Horse hair is no longer used in furniture for the same reason that automobiles replaced horse drawn carts.
Something better came along to replace it.
The last time I encountered a sofa built with horsehair was in 1985. At that time, I was representing a furniture manufacturer submitting a bid on a contract to supply 20 sofas for the U.S. army.
The bid specification materials were several decades old and included about 25 pages of specific construction requirements. One of these called for the use of horsehair.
My company submitted a bid for the sofas based on the use of more modern technologies, including polyurethane foam.
Our bid was promptly rejected based on the argument that we were not complying with the required specifications.
My company threatened to take the matter to court. During the preliminary stages of this action we learned that there was a single company that had been supplying these sofas to the army for over 50 years.
- They had no competition because no competitor was willing to make sofas using such antiquated specifications.
- Nobody had bothered to challenge the specifications previously because the quantities were never large enough to make it worthwhile to actually take legal action.
In the end the case never made it to court. The GSA (General Services Administration) reached a compromise with us.
After this bid they would retire the specification and future procurements would use more modern specifications that would generate more competition.
Horsehair stuffing was never a perfect padding material, although it clumped less than cotton.
- Horsehair has not been used in cushions for quite a while. Cushions with horsehair need to be “fluffed up” after each use.
- An alternative cushion choice for more expensive furniture was feathers and down. These materials were also non-resilient and needed to be fluffed after each use, but they provided superior comfort.
- Beginning in the 1950s, polyurethane foams began replacing horsehair in most furniture applications.
- Down and feathers remained popular in high end seating for a few additional decades, but the high cost and the inconvenience of constant cushion fluffing has reduced its popularity.
Small amounts of down and feathers are still popular when used in combination with coil springs (spring down cushion construction.) But only a very small percentage of cushions are still made exclusively with feathers and down.
It is almost impossible to find anybody in the U.S. still stuffing sofas with horsehair. Horsehair may still be used in a (very) few handmade sofas.
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