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Introduction to Stand Up Desk History

The standing desk has grown in popularity, especially among the hipster and techie crowd, becoming very widespread in the last few years. This is especially due to the spread of Covid-19 in March 2020 that sent people home in droves to work via Zoom in their residences.  But like many modern “inventions,” people got the idea from somewhere.  Did you know everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to Ernest Hemingway have used the standing desk?  Today, we are going to explore stand up desk history, and see which famous people used them throughout history.

There is not an official inventor of the standing desk, but did you know one of it’s earliest fans was Leonardo da Vinci?  As early as the 1400’s it is said Da Vinci used his standing desk to sketch new inventions such as the parachute, diving suit, armored tank, flying machine, and machine gun.  He even painted the Mona Lisa at his standing desk!  Furthermore, there is also a desk named after him called the “da Vinci 3-in-1 desk!

Da Vinci Desk
Leonardo da Vinci

The standing desk also gained a fan following at the University of Cambridge in England, first documented as being used in the library in 1626.  People believed that the idea of writing while standing would help their mind and thought processes flow more smoothly.

Denison Library

Napoleon Bonaparte

The psychological and creative benefits of standing while working also became popular with leaders like Napoléon Bonaparte of France.  He was an avid letter writer and found his standing desk to be helpful when drawing up battle plans. In addition, he felt it helped to heighten his cognitive abilities when preparing for battle.

Napoleon's Desk
Napoléon Bonaparte

Stand Up Desk History in the 1800’s

Another famous leader who worked at a standing desk was Thomas JeffersonHe also used a writing desk which could then be set on top of the standing desk.  He used this desk to compose important writings such as the Declaration of Independence.  President Jefferson was not comfortable with his desk being stuck in one position, therefore he developed a six-legged adjustable standing desk.

President Jefferson was one of the first known people to use an adjustable standing desk, according to records.  He found a famous Williamsburg cabinetmaker to design the desk, which was made of mahogany and yellow pine.  Jefferson requested the desk be made with six pegs to increase stability.  To clarify, the height could be adjusted with a ratchet stand, while a bail handle pulled the desk forward to display a flat, lined writing surface.

 

Talldesk
Thomas Jefferson Writing Desk

With the industrial revolution in the late 1800’s came a significant amount of factory work in America.  Sit down desks became the standard as factory work became so prevalent in this time in history.  Furthermore, these uniform desks were less expensive to make thereby reducing expenses.

Glove Factory 1930's

George Comer

George N. Comer, who wrote the book, “Penmanship Made Easy,” was an advocate for the standing desk.  He wrote, “I would not, by any means, proscribe the use of the sitting-desk, but recommend the learner to practice, as much as possible, in a standing position; first, because nine-tenths of the business writing is done at standing-desks […], and second because I am satisfied, from long experience and observation, that it is the best position to adopt, both for rapid, continuous writing and health.”

Historical Standing Desk Write-up

Stand Up Desk History in the 1900’s

In the 1900s, Winston Churchill was often seen writing at a standing desk.  Early models were sturdy and practical but rather plain beginning in the 1920’s.  At a later point, Churchill chose to have something built with shelving.  According to the Hillsdale College Press, the picture below was taken February 25, 1939, showing Churchill and his original stand-up desk.  The desk was placed on a low piece of furniture to figure out the correct height. Consequently, at Christmas in 1949, Churchill’s four children presented him with an incredibly special full-height-stand-up desk. It was made of mahogany crafted by well-known furniture builder “Whites of Bedford.”

He even had a desk style named after him.  Per the Churchill Project, the main characteristics of a “Winston Churchill Stand-Up Desk” consist of “a sloping top with molded book rest, to its lower edge, the flat top section with three-quarter spindle gallery; below the sloped surface are two shelves with molded fronts, arced apron below…. on four square-section legs, the front legs incised.”

Winston Churchill Stand-Up Desk
Stand-Up Desk with Books
Brown Stand-Up Desk

Standing desks were immensely popular in the homes of the rich as well as numerous authors.  Charles Dickens was said to have books from floor to ceiling and preferred to write from a standing desk.  Other notable authors were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Lewis Carroll and Virginia Wolf.

Image Of Charles Dickens
Portrait of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Picture of Lewis Carroll
Picture of Virginia Wolf

Ernest Hemingway

20th Century Nobel Prize beloved author Ernest Hemingway created a stand-up work-place that was made of a bookcase near his bed.  Legend has it that Hemingway began standing while writing because it helped with a minor leg injury, which he suffered in World War I.  An interviewer from the Paris Review said, “A working habit he has had from the beginning, Hemingway stands when he writes. He stands in a pair of his over-sized loafers on the worn skin of a Lesser kudu—the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him”, after interviewing Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway even said, “Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind. I like to write standing up.”

Picture of Ernest Hemingway

Stand Up Desk History in the 21st Century

Jumping into the 21st century, there are many notable people and companies who prefer a standing deskDonald Rumsfeld actually enjoyed using Thomas Jefferson’s standing desk that is still at the State Department.  He actually chose to work without a chair in his office, and was said to stand all day. Except for when he had lunch with guests, that is.  Furthermore, he took no pity when he heard some terrorism detainees had been standing for four hours.  Rumsfeld was quoted as say, ”I stand for 8 to 10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?”

Picture of Donald Rumsfeld

Stan Lee is renowned for his superhero movies such as “X-Men,” “Fantastic Four,” and “Spider-Man.” He has posted a photo of him writing with a caption, “Always wrote standing up – good for the figure – and always faced the sun – good for the suntan!”

Picture of Stan Lee Writing Standing Up
Stan Lee and Marvel Superheroes

Modern Tech Companies

As you might imagine, many famous people and companies in technology prefer standing desks.  Michael Dell uses a podium desk and only has chairs in his office for visitors.  Tim Cook, Apple CEO, is a big believer in standing desks. So much so that he purchased standing desks for all his employees when the company moved to the new campus.  Tim Cook heard from doctors that “sitting is the new cancer.”  In an interview with Bloomberg he said, “If you stand for a while, then sit, and so on and so forth, it’s much better for your lifestyle.”

Employees at Facebook inquired about obtaining a standing desk after hearing in the news about all the health risks associated with sitting all day.  Facebook estimates there more than 350 standing desks at the Palo Alto, California headquarters.  Mark Zuckerberg likes his standing desk because a person can either stand at their desk or sit on a high stool to work.

Picture of Mark Zuckerberg at desk
Crowded Office
Tim Cook and Employees
Picture of Michael Dell in front of Dell Logo

Other companies have built a standing desk into their health and fitness initiative with their employees.  Google encourages the use of standing desks and offers them to workers as a part of their wellness program.

Employee On Exercise Ball at Desk
Google Headquarters Lobby

In the future, who knows what the standing desk will morph into or if the demand will increase tenfold. Who knows, maybe one day this will be the standard desk and the stationary desk will be a thing of the past. We hope you have enjoyed this bit of trivia about the history of the standing desk, and the people who cannot live without it. For more information or to purchase a standing desk please visit https://officefurnitureamerica.us/.