The chairs usually have adjustable height (with a foot-operated jack or a hand-operated lever on the side). It can also rotate, or lean backwards (for hairwashing). They are normally made from metal and leather and are usually pretty heavy.
Barber chairs in engravings from the Civil War era share many features with modern chairs, including high seating, upholstery, and a footrest. The first factory-manufactured chairs date to around 1850. The first one-piece reclining barber chair with an attached footrest was patented in 1878 by the Archer Company of Saint Louis. Archer quickly followed it with a chair that raised and lowered mechanically. Eugene Berninghaus of Cincinnati improved on Archer's design with the first reclining and revolving chair, the Paragon.
In 1897, Samuel Kline (of the Kline Chair Company) patented a chair and filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Theodore Koch in 1905 (but was overturned). In 1904, Kline filed a patent for an "adjustable chair" which was granted in 1907.
In 1900, Ernest Koken, a German immigrant, created a hydraulic-operated chair and also patented the "joystick" side lever, which allowed a barber to control all the mechanical functions.
In the late 1950s, US-based barber chair manufactures sold about 10,000 chairs a year to the 100,000 barber shops. Chicago-based Emil J. Paidar Company was a leading manufacturer of barber chairs in the late 1950s (Belmont and American Barber Chair Company from 1948 to 1956 whose chairs were spinoffs of the Koken chair). Starting in 1957, Belmont joined Osaka, Japan's Takara Belmont Company began importing almost exact duplicates of Paidar chairs—at 20%-30% less cost. In June 1969 Takara purchased the Koken Barber Chair building and production equipment in St. Louis Mo and in 1970 they purchased the Koken name, trademarks and patents this purchase was the main reason that by 1970, Takara had 70% of the US market, beating out Paidar who once held the same amount.