Michael Thonet was born in Boppard, Germany, in 1796. The son of a tanner, he served an apprenticeship in cabinet-making and opened his own workshop in 1819. Around 1830 he began to experiment with bending battens that had been cut and laminated, thus inventing the Boppard laminated wood chair.
From 1843 until 1846 Michael Thonet and his sons worked for Carl Leistler, a Viennese company that made parquet flooring, where they made the floors and chairs for the Palais Liechtenstein. In 1849 Michael Thonet and his five sons were finally again in a position to establish their own furniture-making workshop.
The 1849 Thonet "Sessel Nr. 1" chair made for the garden palace of Prince Schwarzenberg exemplifies a revolutionary, stunningly novel way of making chairs. It was not just that it was made of bentwood; its individual elements were prefab and could be recombined with elements of other models to make other pieces of furniture on the modular principle. Thus Michael Thonet laid the groundwork back in the mid-19th century for a type of furniture that anticipated industrial mass production.
After handing over the business to his five sons, Thonet Brother's bentwood furnishings became staggeringly successful. The firm continued to expand and added more retail outlets and branch factories. In 1859 their "Sessel Nr. 14" was launched, and is today renowned worldwide as the "Viennese Coffeehouse Chair." It sold 50 million units by 1930, making it the world's bestselling chair, and established a starting point for the history of modern furniture.
By the time Michael Thonet died in 1871, Thonet Bros. had branches in nearly all large European cities as well as in Russia and the U.S. From 1900 leading designers created furniture for Thonet Bros. In 1929 a French subsidiary was created, Thonet Frères, which ventured into new territory by making the tubular steel furniture designed by Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier.
Thonet GmbH continues to produce it's classic pieces and develop new ones, and is now headquartered in Frankenberg, Germany.