"a seat with a back, intended for one person," early 13c., chaere, from Old French chaiere "chair, seat, throne" (12c.; Modern French chaire "pulpit, throne;" the more modest sense having gone since 16c. with variant form chaise), from Latin cathedra "seat" (see cathedral).
Figurative sense of "seat of office or authority" c. 1300 originally was of bishops and professors. Meaning "office of a professor" (1816) is extended from the seat from which a professor lectures (mid-15c.). Meaning "seat of a person presiding at meeting" is from 1640s. As short for electric chair from 1900. Chair-rail "strip or board of wood fastened to a wall at such a height as to prevent the plaster from being scraped by the backs of chairs" is from 1822.