The tubular steel chair is one of the most emblematic types of Modernist furniture. While a number of European and American designers created versions from the late 1920s onwards, the original tubular steel chair was created by architect and designer Marcel Breuer in 1926. The 26-year-old Breuer was one of the first six apprentices in the Bauhaus furniture workshop in 1921, and by 1924 he was its head. Before he left the Bauhaus in 1928, Breuer also designed a number of important interiors, including the homes of a number of other Bauhaus masters like Walter Gropius, and Lazlo Maholy-Nagy (who used Breuer-designed B5 side chairs in his dining room).
Impressed by the strength and lightness of the tubular steel frame of his first bicycle, which he purchased in 1925, Breuer was inspired to design furniture made of the same material. He experimented for some time before he found a successful method for bending industrial steel tubes into chair forms. In 1926 Breuer was awarded patents for several tubular steel furniture designs, and in 1927 he and a colleague created the furniture company Standard-Möbel, specifically to manufacture and sell tubular steel furniture, including the spare, rectilinear B5 side chair. The B5's structure was reduced to its most basic elements to support the body, employing just two planes of cloth stretched between the metal frame components to form the seat and back. Even the textile that constituted the back and seat panels was innovative, made of Eisengarn (“iron yarn”), a sturdy paraffin-treated canvas developed for the tubular steel chairs in about 1926, by Grete Reichardt, a textile designer at the Bauhaus. The B5 was one of the models sold in Standard-Möbel’s initial line. Due to financial reasons the company was sold to Austrian furniture company Thonet in 1928.
This B5 chair dates from the short-lived Standard-Möbel company, and represents an early example of this form. The B5 was subsequently overshadowed by Breuer's first tubular steel design, the radical and more popular deep-seated lounge chair, the B3, commonly known as the “Wassily.” Examples of both chairs are in the Cooper-Hewitt collection.