Interesting History About the Wheelchair

Today we are going to take a dive into the past and learn a little bit about the history of the wheelchair – how it came about, where it came from, who invented it, and when. Truth be told, no one knows for sure when was the first ever wheelchair invented, and who invented it. However, in this short piece, you will learn about how wheelchair technology has progressed tremendously over the years, and the timeline to which each progress is owed. Let’s begin.

  1. The “First Ever” Wheelchair

Confucius Wheelchair

As mentioned earlier, there is no actual record of the first wheelchair, but there are historical depictions and records with regard to the creation of the wheelchair across time and place. Here is a Chinese invention that is believed to be from the 7th century, as depicted by Confucius. There is no proof however, that this chair was used for disabled people. It could have very well been used to carry people of higher power.

  1. The Second Wheelchair – or Maybe it was the First

King Phillip II Wheelchair

In 1595, a chair was invented specifically for the immobile. It was initially called the “invalid’s chair” and it was a chair seated on 4 small wheels that apparently had an adjustable backrest, and a leg rest. Here’s a sketch of the wheelchair built for King Phillip II of Spain, at the end of the 16th century.

  1. The First Self-Propelled Wheelchair

Self Propelling Wheelchair

Both of the wheelchairs above required assistance – someone to maneuver the wheelchair on behalf of the user. That was until the first self-propelling wheelchair was created by Stephan Farffler, a 22-year-old paraplegic watchmaker from Germany. His creation worked as a three-wheeled, cranks and cogwheel system. It is believed that this creation inspired the invention of the bicycle and tricycle.

  1. The Bath Wheelchair

Bath Wheelchair

John Dawson hailed from Bath, England. In 1783, Dawson invented a revolutionary wheelchair that was called the Bath Wheelchair, named after the town of Bath. It is believed that there were other wheelchairs available at the time, but none were as popular as the Bath Wheelchair. It was designed with two big wheels at the back, and one small wheel in front.

  1. Advancement in the late 1800s

1900s Wheelchair

Although the Bath Wheelchair was popular even throughout the early part of the 19th century, inventors were imminent on improving it. A lot of improvements were introduced by various inventors among which was the introduction of a patented design, featuring two rear push wheels and two front caster wheels – the first ever four-wheeled wheelchair. Later in the century, somewhere between 1865 and 1881, hollow rubber wheels on metal rims, and pushrims were introduced to replace the wooden wheels.

  1. Birth of the Folding Wheelchair

First Foldable Wheelchair

 In 1933, two inspired engineers Harry Jennings and Herbert Everest designed and created the first ever collapsible, lightweight wheelchair. The idea was initiated after Everest met with a mining accident and had to use a wheelchair. He complained about the bulkiness of available wheelchairs to Jennings, and together they got to work. The duo became the first company to produce wheelchairs in mass, and even supplied wheelchairs to disabled veterans of World War II. Everest & Jennings is now a popular wheelchair brand.

  1. World’s First Electric Wheelchair

First Electric Wheelchair

Over the years, it was realized that even the existing self-propelling wheelchairs required the user to have the strength and capability to propel the wheelchair. Well what about users who are unable to propel themselves, and don’t wish to dependant on the help of others? Many inventors attempted to create a powered wheelchair, but to no avail – until sometime in the mid of the 1900s. Canadian inventor George Klein and his team of engineers successfully created the first working electric wheelchair in light of aiding veterans of World War II, while he was working at the National Research Council of Canada. In 1956, Everest & Jennings became the first company to also mass produce electric wheelchairs.

  1. Standing Wheelchairs, Mobility Scooters, Sports Wheelchairs, and All-terrain Wheelchairs

Standing Wheelchair

There is no record of who specifically came up with these wheelchairs or when, so we can assume that each wheelchair manufacturer took the initiative to improve their products and come up with alternatives to suit different users. Today, powered wheelchairs, mobility scooters, and standing wheelchairs are becoming increasingly popular. However, mobility scooters are bulkier and users who need to maneuver around smaller spaces or often travel prefer foldable options such as powered or standing wheelchairs. Standing wheelchairs are the latest addition to the wheelchair family and the most technologically advanced kind. They come with an array of benefits and you can read more about them here.