A Car-Builder's Dictionary

Horton's Reclining Chairs

The chair car might be called the poor mans parlor car. The parlor car was an extra-fare car, like a Pullman Palace sleeper, with patrons paying extra for the added luxury they enjoyed. This luxury generally included, among other things, a single row of overstuffed, high-backed armchairs on swivel bases down each side of the car.

Advertisement for Horton's Reclining Chairs
Dont know how it was as a railroad car seat, but any dentist would love to have one!

There was no extra charge for the chair car, but neither was there the extra luxury found in the parlor car. Each passenger had a reclining chair that could be turned toward the scenery, or the other way to converse with a neighbor across the isle. At night the chair could be dropped back like a recliner, and while it was not as good as a berth, it was adequate for a snooze. The chair car compared to the parlor car as did the tourist (or emigrant) sleeper to the Pullman Palace car.

A number of inventors tried to develop reclining seats, but the one that seems to have done it best was Dr. N.N. Horton, a Kansas City physician and surgeon. Just how Dr. Horton came to invent and market the chair is a story yet to be known to us.

Chicago & Alton - Horton chair car
Chicago & Alton chair car of 1880 with Dr. Horton’s chairs. If you look closely, in the center medallion it says “Chicago & Alton Railroad — Horton Chair Car.” Can’t read it, you say? Click on pic for an enlargement. (National Car Builder, June 1882)

In 1877 the Chicago & Alton introduced chair cars (how many we dont know yet) featuring Dr. Hortons chairs, and they were so popular that three years later they built six more of them. {1}

So how did a Kansas City surgeon’s invention come to be tried out by an Illinois railroad? Perhaps it had something to do with its relationship with the Kansas City, St. Louis & Chicago Railroad (see lettering on car above), which it made a part of its system in 1879.

In the 1880 Kansas City, Missouri, City Directory, there is a listing for the Horton Reclining Chair Works with an office in the Union Station.

Dr. Hortons chair was regarded as the most scientifically designed of the new chairs. The advertisement below shows a rather stylized view of what a chair car with Dr. Hortons chairs looked like inside. Look closely at the right end of first line under the picture and you will see Dr. Hortons Patent. The reality of the Horton's Reclining Chair may be better represented by the advertisement from a trade publication of the day that headlines this article.

Chicago & Alton Ad for Horton Seats

Cast of Characters

Numon Norris {213}) Horton, M.D. (1838-1892) was born on a farm in Genesee County, Michigan. After graduating at Ann Arbor, he began the study of medicine with Dr. Hewitt of Michigan University. He then went to the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City (now part of Columbia University), from which he graduated in 1862. After graduation, he went to Europe as physician for a number of families attending the World’s Fair in London. While there he traveled extensively and visited the hospitals of Paris. {215}

Upon Horton’s return to the U.S., he was appointed assistant surgeon in the Union Army. During the Civil War he served as Surgeon in Charge of Batteries of the 6th Division, Army of Tennessee (1862), with the 8th Regiment Louisiana Volunteers of African Descent (1863), and as surgeon with the 47th Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry (1864). {214}

After the war, Horton settled in Ft. Scott, Kansas, where he practiced his profession for eight years. About 1873, he moved to Kansas City, where he practiced as surgeon for the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad, the Kansas City, Lawrence & Southern Railroad, the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad and the Western Division of the Missouri Pacific Railroad.

According to one contemporary biography, “One day in August Dr. Horton, while traveling on the cars, conceived the idea of inventing an easier mode of riding, and in September, 1876, received the patent for the chair, since so celebrated.” {215}

Some Patents Issued to Numon N. Horton

Date Number Description
1878 Oct 15 208,907 Reclining Chair
1880 May 25 227,977 Heater, Cooler, and Ventilator for Railway Cars
1880 July 13 229,887? Spring Motor
1880 Sept 21 232,352 Dentist's Chair
1885 August 25 324,843 Folding Cot
1890 July 8 431,894 Velocipede
1890 July 8 431,895 Bicycle
1890 Sept 9 328,110 Bicycle
14 April 2007

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