The wheelchair is one of the most influential, life-changing inventions in human history. Yet it is somewhat mind-boggling to think that it has only been used over the last five centuries, and that before the ill-health and mobility limitations of powerful people demanded its invention, there was little that people with disabilities could do to move in the world easier. Beyond that, however, has been the invention of the electric wheelchair, allowing for even better accommodation of mobility situations for numerous people.
The wheelchair has transformed our society very much in terms of mobility for those with a disability. If you have a patient who can’t move partially or completely, we can use them to make their movement easy. So, who invented the first wheelchair and when was it invented?
Before the Wheelchair
The earliest mention of the wheelchair is hard to pinpoint, but many historians have discovered inscriptions and other evidence suggesting that mobility devices were around in ancient Greece and China (sixth century AD).
First Wheelchair Designs
Gradually, over thousands of years, the first wheelchairs began to emerge as purpose-designed disability mobility aids. Over time, designs were tweaked and changed for improved control and propulsion.
Here’s what this evolution looked like:
Spain, 16th century
At the start of the 16th century, Philip II of Spain, who suffered from gout, had a rudimentary wheelchair designed for him. We don’t know who designed this wheelchair chair, but it was still very clunky and could only be moved if pushed from behind.
Germany, 17th century
In 1655, a 22-year-old watchmaker named Stephan Farffler designed the world’s first self-propelling chair. Farffler was a paraplegic, having broken his back as a child. His design had three wheels and hand cranks connected to cogs, similar to a bicycle.
England, 18th century
In 1783, John Dawson of Bath, England, invented a wheelchair named after the town of Bath. Dawson designed a chair with two large wheels and one small one. The Bath wheelchair outsold all other wheelchairs throughout the early part of the 19th century.
The Bath wheelchair was not that comfortable and during the last half of the 19th century, many improvements were made to wheelchairs. An 1869 patent for a wheelchair showed the first model with rear push wheels and small front casters. Between, 1867 to 1875, inventors added new hollow rubber wheels similar to those used on bicycles on metal rims. In 1881, the pushrims for added self-propulsion were invented.
America, 19th Century
In 1887, William Hayday designed commercial modified wooden “rolling chairs” in Atlantic City. Hayday designed these so people with disabilities could enjoy the sea breeze along the boardwalk. Eventually anyone could hire them, and people without disabilities started hiring them too. Hayday’s designs were a step in the right direction, but they hardly looked like the modern wheelchair we know today.
The Modern Wheelchair
The folding wheelchair was introduced in 1933. It’s one of the biggest design breakthroughs in the device’s history. It was invented by Harry Jennings for his friend. The folding design and tubular steel chair with a cross frame became the standard design. This model allowed people to use the wheelchair outside of the home, hospitals and care facilities. Later designs built on Jennings concepts and were focused on decreasing weight of the chair and improving its overall performance.
Why was the Electric Wheelchair Invented?
Physical disability is a major challenge, especially the one that makes someone unable to walk. It was even hard for people in the past because they lacked mobility devices and were confined to their homes. Otherwise, they have to rely on someone for mobility. But the invention of the electric wheelchair is a blessing for such people. Now people can move around freely and independently. They don’t even need a caregiver or family member for any kind of mobility.
So, why was the electric wheelchair invented? What reason leads to its invention, and what is the history of the electric wheelchair?
Who Invented the Electric Wheelchair?
The first motorized wheelchair was built by an inventor named George Klein. He was working with the National Research Council of Canada to find ways to help the veterans of World War II come home and live better, more normal lives despite having a permanent injury.
As is often the case with humankind, it was war that helped change the way the wheelchair was built and used. With the use of antibiotics like penicillin and improved medical techniques, many soldiers survived World War II with severe injuries that would have previously resulted in death. This left a large group of people disabled and living a relatively normal lifespan.
During World War II, Wheelchairs were still seen as a tool for hospital staff and in many cases there might only be a few wheelchairs available for an entire hospital.
John Counsell, a World War II survivor, was shot through the back. This made him become a paraplegic. He was satisfied with the manual wheelchairs, but then he realised that quadriplegics would benefit from something more sophisticated. As a patient and advocate for Canada’s veterans, he requested the National Research Council and George Klein to build a new kind of wheelchair.
George accepted the challenge and ended up considering it the most rewarding project of his career. He came up with a unique package of technologies including the joystick, tighter turning systems and separate wheel drives that are still features of electric wheelchairs nowadays.
Klein is often called one of the most prolific inventors in Canadian history, which isn’t bad considering he was a C student in high school. Born in 1904, his invention of the electric wheelchair changed how people with a disability could integrate into society.
By 1955 the popularity of the chair had grown in both the US and Canada. It was used by veterans and civilians alike. To help with the production and improve publicity, Canada allowed the US to begin manufacturing the system.
George Klein’s invention of the first electric wheelchair paved the way for modern power chairs. However, wheelchair technology continues to evolve to this day. Now there are power wheelchairs that include more features that provide more comfortability for the user. Electric wheelchairs require no strength from the user which allows greater long-term comfortability. They have the ability to go further without the user getting tired. Features include reclining and tilting options which are great for pressure relief and others useful or necessary to health and function. They have different drivetrains which can cover a variety of terrains from grass and dirt to pavement.
In recent years, the wheelchair market has only grown. In fact, the wheelchair so critical to the continued wellbeing and health of society that the World Health Organization declared it a basic human right. That’s because wheelchairs enable users with a range of limited mobility and disabilities to regain some independence.
Throughout the most recent decade, the market has seen a demand for comfort, reliability, and innovation. New technologies have the power to change the ways we think about mobility. This might, for example, means tighter turning circles, or a nimbler design so that wheelchairs can fit into smaller, more compact spaces. Many different types and models of powered wheelchairs are available on the market. They vary in features and price, but all share the same basic design principle pioneered by George Klein.
If you would like to find out more, please get in touch with our friendly team on 2139334058 or head over to our contact page for more information.
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How does the motorized wheelchair work?
The motorized wheelchair is a battery-powered wheelchair that uses motors to move the wheels. The user controls the speed and direction of the wheelchair with a joystick or other control device.
Is a power wheelchair the same as an electric one?
Yes, electric wheelchairs are the same as power wheelchairs. Powered wheelchairs use electric motors to power the wheels, while the user powers manual wheelchairs. A joystick or other controls can drive power wheelchairs; some even have automatic braking and steering features.