Benches here, benches everywhere and there are always places to sit. The concept of the bench seat is as old as ancient times and as new as the latest automobile. Designers the world over have struggled and labored to give us seating that is hip, functional and comfortable. Chairs of all every conceivable shape and size, color and concept have held the promise of a comfy place to plant ourselves. The concept of the bench seat can be seen everywhere, everyday as the most common form of seating.
When we think of the bench seat, most of us think of the park bench. Whether made of stone, wrought iron, or wood, the park bench is probably the best example of shared public seating. Talk a walk through a busy park at lunch on a nice spring day. Finding an empty bench may be hard to find. The design of the average park bench is simple and functional.
Bench Seating Has Evolved
No one really knows how the concept of the bench seat was developed. Early humans mostly likely grew tired of sitting on the ground either because it was wet, hot, or just plain uncomfortable. A nearby rock, ledge or fallen tree could have been the very first bench seat. The bench seat could have been developed earlier than that, not by humans but by evolved apes. Sharing all but about three percent of their genes with humans, early apes may have come to the same conclusion. Better to sit on a log than on the ground. Early humans could have simply copied the behavior they observed in animals.
The bench seat evolved along with other amenities as part of ancient cultures like the Romans and Greeks. Any type of seating at public and private venues was often reserved for the moneyed elite. Chairs were often heavy and expensive to manufacture. The masses often were forced to stand or sit of the floor. The development of the bench seat literally brought seating to common people. Simple in design and less costly to make than individual chairs, benches or bench style seating soon became a fixture in ancient cultures. The Coliseum in Rome had bench style seating much like many modern stadiums that came after.
Now think of all the other places where bench seats are used. Bench seats are everywhere. For thousands of years, horse drawn transportation has been used to move people and materials. Many types of horse drawn wagons and carriages were equipped with a simple bench seat.
The Conestoga wagon was first referred to in the early seventeen hundreds and was equipped with what became known as a lazy seat. A crude sort of bench, the lazy seat was an alternative to walking. Many old west films show people sitting in the front of the wagon, driving a team of horses. Some historians dispute this depiction though later wagon designs most certainly included a bench seat. Without the benefit of springs or wheel suspension, the ride would have certainly been a rough one.
Early train travelers would have shared a bench seat, much like buses passengers do today. Even modern commuter trains still utilize bench style seating. Other forms of mass transit such as trolleys and school buses still feature a bench seat configuration. Military aircraft used to transport paratroopers still makes use of a bench seat configuration. The main reason is ease of egress. This is in contrast to commercial aircraft that shun the humble bench seat, mainly for safety reasons and passenger comfort.
Many modern churches make use of the traditional church pew. The pew style of seat is a long bench most often with a back support. Early pews were backless, merely providing a place for large numbers of people to sit. Bench seating is very utilitarian, with the user sharing space with others. There is a certain democratic element to bench seating. No one person is more comfortable than any other person is.
Since the beginning, automobiles have featured bench seats in both the front and the rear. Even today, the rear passenger seat of most cars is a bench seat. Until the nineteen eighties, a front bench seat was very common. Safety concerns and improvements in crash designs drove the bench seat exclusively to the rear of the car.
Around the home, bench seats are often more decorative than utilitarian. A popular decorative piece of bench seat is the common parsons bench. The entryway of a home is where you might think about having a bench. The bench provides a place to sit while putting on or removing your shoes. In the bedroom, it is common to find a bench at the foot of the bed. Just as with a hall or entryway, the bedroom bench seat provides a place to sit while dressing.
A popular architectural feature in some older homes, the window bench or window seat is making a comeback. Built into the wall, the space provides a bright, comfortable nook. Space is often allocated under the bench for storage, making a window bench a very versatile use of space. Almost any type of storage chest can perform double duty as a bench seat. Some home bench seats serve a purely decorative function. Moving outdoors, bench seating can be included in the design of a patio or deck. Placing a wrought iron bench in the garden can provide a quiet place to sit and reflect or simply watch the flowers grow.
There is simply no substitute for the bench seat. Informal, simple, and functional, the bench seat has been around for thousands of years and will no doubt be around for thousands of years to come.