A bucket seat is a seat contoured to hold one person, distinct from bench seats which are flat platforms designed to seat multiple people. Bucket seats are standard in fast cars to keep riders in place when making sharp or quick turns.
The term appears to come from the French word, baquet, meaning "cockpit". Bucket seats resemble seats that were used in the cockpits of early aircraft, and are still used today in single-pilot aircraft.
Racing vehicles usually have only one bucket seat. Vehicles sold to the general public often have two bucket seats in the front compartment, and may contain more in a rear compartment. Commercial aircraft now have bucket seats for all passengers.
The bucket seat trend was especially apparent in sporty cars, particularly two-seater sports cars, most of which were manufactured in European nations.
For decades, American cars were typically equipped with bench seats, which permitted three-passenger seating. The advent of compact cars and specialty vehicles such as the Ford Thunderbird in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and sporty versions of both standard-sized and compact cars, accelerated the bucket-seat trend in domestic cars around 1960.
By 1962, more than a million U.S. built cars were factory equipped with bucket seats, which were then further popularized with the advent of sporty compact cars, often dubbed "ponycars", such as the Ford Mustang.
In later decades, as U.S. cars were designed smaller in order to meet increasingly stringent fuel economy standards as well as intense competition from imported cars (particularly Japanese models), bucket seats became more common in domestic cars with each passing year. The once-standard bench seat is now generally relegated to a few larger sedans and pickup trucks.