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History of the Mendota Terrace Chairs in Madison, WI


Two of our most beloved Madison icons — Bucky + our Sunburst chair. | Photo by @wisconsinunion

Table of Contents

Pull up a seat. With the Memorial Union Terrace chairs officially returned to the lakeside, we’re diving into the history of these Madison icons we chair-ish so much.

From the beginning

The Wisconsin Memorial Union was constructed throughout the summer + fall of 1928. Long before the famous sunburst seating, the terrace was furnished with hickory woven chairs popularized by other 20th-century waterfronts. Due to the extreme weather coming off of the lake, the chairs were replaced in the 1930s with sturdier metal alternatives — the Deauville and the first iteration of the Sunburst.

Settling in

Through the 1960s, the two seating styles lived lakeside. However, the Deauville — more prone to rust — was slowly replaced by the Sunburst and banished to the Union Theater Balcony. By the 1970s, the iconic seating had already made its mark on the terrace. The durability in temperate weather conditions made them a viable, long-term solution.


A scene of the terrace we could live in forever, happily. | Photo by @tylerjmason

Sitting pretty

In 1981, Wisco Industries was commissioned to manufacture the chairs, following the closure of former producer Troy Sun Shade Company. Designed in John Deere green and Allis Chalmers orange and yellow — a color scheme trademarked by the university — the aesthetic celebrates Wisconsin farming traditions, each color representing spring, summer + fall. The seasons most associated with terrace sitting. By the late 80s, the terrace added 300 more chairs and 70 tables to fill the waterfront space, creating the space we see today.

Presently, the terrace is a community hub filled with hospitality + entertainment — a place sacred to the city of Madison. Looking to take home some of that magic? While you can’t buy a terrace chair in the trademarked colors, Badger red Sunburst chairs are available for sale.

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