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Michael Thonet (2 July 1796 — 3 March 1871) was a German-Austrian cabinet maker.
Thonet was the son of master tanner Franz Anton Thonet of Boppard. Following a carpenter's apprenticeship, Thonet set himself up as an independent cabinetmaker in 1819. A year later, he married Anna Grahs, with whom he had seven sons and six daughters. Only five of the sons, however, survived early childhood.
In the 1830s, Thonet began trying to make furniture out of glued and bent wooden slats. His first success was the Bopparder Schichtholzstuhl (Boppard layerwood chair) in 1836. Thonet gained substantial independence by acquiring the Michelsmühle, the glue factory that made the glue for this process, in 1837. However, his attempts to patent the technology failed in Germany (1840) as well as in Great Britain, France and Russia (1841). Thonet's essential breakthrough was his success in having light, strong wood bent into curved, graceful shapes by forming the wood in hot steam. This enabled him to design entirely novel, elegant, lightweight, durable and comfortable furniture, which appealed strongly to fashion - a complete departure from the heavy, carved designs of the past - and whose aesthetic and functional appeal remains to this day.
At the Koblenz trade fair of 1841, Thonet met Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, who was enthusiastic about Thonet's furniture and invited him to the Vienna court. In the next year, Thonet was able to present his furniture, and his chairs in particular, to the Imperial Family.
As the Boppard establishment got into financial difficulties, Thonet sold it and emigrated to Vienna with his family. There, he worked with his sons on the interior decoration of the Palais Liechtenstein for the Carl Leistler establishment.
In 1849 he again founded an establishment of his own, the Gebrüder Thonet. In 1850 he produced his Nr 1 chair. The World's Fair in London 1851 saw him receive the bronze medal for his Vienna bentwood chairs. This was his international breakthrough. At the next World's Fair in Paris 1855, he was awarded the silver medal as he continued to improve his production methods. In 1856 he was able to open up a new factory in Koryčany, Moravia. Its extensive beech woods were of great significance to his enterprise.
The 1859 chair Nr. 14 - better known as Konsumstuhl Nr. 14, coffee shop chair no. 14 - is still called the "chair of chairs" with some 50 million produced up until 1930. It yielded a gold medal for Thonet's enterprise at the 1867 Paris World's Fair.
As Michael Thonet died 1871 in Vienna, the Fa. Gebrüder Thonet had sales locations across Europe as well as Chicago and New York. Today, a museum in the factory in Frankenberg, Hesse showcases the firm's history and the Thonet design.
Often mispronounced "Tho-nay" the name is pronounced "Tone-eT" with a hard beginning and ending t.
The Museum of Applied Arts, MAK Vienna hosts the largest collection of original Thonet chairs in Austria.
- Albrecht Bangert: Thonet Möbel. Bugholz-Klassiker von 1830-1930. Heyne, München 1997, ISBN 3-453-13047-2
- Hans H. Buchwald: Form from Process. The Thonet chair. Carpenter Center for the Visual arts, Cambridge Mass. 1967
- Danko, Peter. Thoughts on Thonet - "Fine Woodworking" January/February 1985: 112-114.
- Del Ducca, Giuseppe. Michael Thonet. 9 November 1999.  (11/9/99)
- "Galerie Thonet." Galerie Thonet. 8 November 1999.  (11/8/99)
- Andrea Gleininger: Der Kaffeehausstuhl Nr. 14 von Michael Thonet. Birkhäuser, Frankfurt/M. 1998, ISBN 3-7643-6832-2
- Heinz Kähne: Möbel aus gebogenem Holz. Ein Blick in die Sammlung der Stadt Boppard. Boppard 2000
- Heinz Kähne: Thonet Bugholz-Klassiker. Eine Einführung in die Schönheit und Vielfalt der Thonet-Möbel. Rhein-Mosel Verlag, Briedel 1999, ISBN 3-929745-70-4
- Labelart WebPage design. Thonet Vienna-Chair No. 14. 9 November 1999. 
- Brigitte Schmutzler: Eine unglaubliche Geschichte. Michael Thonet und seine Stühle. Landesmuseum, Koblenz 1996, ISBN 3-925915-55-9
- Reider, William. Antiques: Bentwood Furniture. Architectural Digest August 1996: 106-111.
- Thonet. American Craft December 1990: 42-45.
- Thonet. Gebrüder Thonet GmbH. (11/9/99)
- Alexander von Vegesack: Thonet: Classic Furniture in Bent Wood and Tubular Steel. Rizzoli, New York, 1997, ISBN 0-8478-2040-8
- RENZI/THILLMANN, sedie a dondolo Thonet - Thonet rocking chairs, Silvana Editoriale, Milano 2006, ISBN 88-366-0671-7I
- LARA, NATASCHA/THILLMANN, WOLFGANG, Bugholzmöbel in Südamerika – Bentwood furniture in South America – Muebles de madera curvada, La Paz 2008
- THILLMANN, WOLFGANG / WILLSCHEID, BERND, MöbelDesign - Roentgen, Thonet und die Moderne, Roentgen Museum Neuwied, Neuwied 2011, ISBN 978-3-9809797-9-5
Media related to Michael Thonet at Wikimedia Commons
- Michael Thonet in the German National Library catalogue
- Thonet chairs at the Museum of Applied Arts, MAK Vienna
- Dieter Staedeli Viennese chairs
- bugholzmoebel.at, site displaying photographs, documents of bentwood furniture and blog
- Museum Boppard, site displaying the complete Thonet collection of the Museum Boppard
- thillmann-collection Wolfgang Thillmann, the world's largest private collection of Thonet and bentwood furniture