The Big Chair
Highway 109 & Main Street
The story began in 1922. It seems Thomasville had already
gained a reputation as “The Chair Town” due to the fact that products
of Thomasville Chair Company (now Thomasville Furniture
Industries) were almost exclusively simple, sturdy, straight-back
chairs. Somebody, no one knows for certain who, got the idea to
erect a big chair to call attention to the town’s chief industry.
Thomasville has actually had two big chairs. The first one was erected in September 1922, at almost the same spot occupied by the one standing today. It was made by Thomasville Chair Company and took enough lumber to build 100 ordinary chairs. The project kept 3 men working 10 hours a day for 1 week. When completed it stood 13 feet 6 inches tall. The seat was 6 feet by 5 feet 6 inches tall and covered in leather made from the hide of a Swiss steer.
After nearly 15 years of exposure, the local chair was scrapped
Thomasville, though, had by no means lost interest. In fact,
shortly after the first chair was taken down, another larger, more
ornate chair was considered.
It was not until 1948; however, after the Chamber of Commerce
was formed, that the restoration movement began. This time it
was decided the chair was to be built to last forever.
Chamber Manager, Kenneth Hoyle, asked James
Buford Harvey if he could build a concrete chair.
Harvey, who also built the life-sized concrete lion which stands
today opposite the big chair, said he would try. The Chamber interested several local businesses to help,
including Thomasville Chair Company. Their dean of designers,
Thomas W. Johnson designed a reproduction of the Duncan Phyfe
armchair which stands today overlooking the Square downtown.
A steel skeleton was fashioned by Salem Steel Company of
Winston-Salem. Harvey, working in the Thomasville Chair plant
on Taylor Street, fabricated wire mesh to fit over the steel skeleton
in proportions dictated by Johnson’s plans. After that, Harvey
labored for over six months coating the mesh—a spoonful at a
time—with a mixture of cement and granite dust to a thickness of
about a half-inch. The chair was then painted to make it appear
that it was built with wood and to suggest the seat had been
upholstered with a striped fabric.
Meanwhile, the Chamber, City and others came along with the
base. The cornerstone was laid on January 9, 1951. A time-box
embedded in the cornerstone included among other things, a
Bible, photos, a safety razor, a prospectus for eliminating railroad
grade crossings, a city directory, brochures, civic records, and a
letter from Mayor Harry B. Finch.
When completed, the new Big Chair of Thomasville stood 30
feet high from the bottom of the 12-foot base to the top of the 18-
foot chair. The seat was 10-1/2 feet wide.
In 1960, The Thomasville Chair gained national attention when
vice-presidential hopeful Lyndon B. Johnson stopped to greet
local supporters from atop the chair while on a campaign whistle
stop. The Big Chair has since hosted governors, university presidents,
mayors, beauty queens, and even an evangelist. It has also
been listed in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
Today, the Big Chair of Thomasville is still a focal point for tourists as well as local citizens; and, continues to call attention to our city’s chief industry. While other communities have seen bigger chairs come and go, Thomasville still boasts the remaining “WORLD’S LARGEST CHAIR!”