The History of the Wheelchair – Discover Its Existence

Have you ever stopped to wonder about the who and why of wheelchairs? Have you ever looked at this clever invention, and wondered whose brainchild it was? Why did they invent it? What was their story?

History of the wheelchair

Well, the very first wheelchair in documented history, was made way back in 1595. It was built for Phillip II of Spain, by an unknown inventor.

In 1655 the first self-propelled wheelchair was built by a watchmaker called Stephen Farfler, who was, himself, paraplegic. One imagines he used his watch making skills to create the self-propelled, three-wheeled chair.

Revision and Design

The next “edition” of the wheelchair was designed by a British man, John Dawson. He designed a chair with two large rear wheels and one small guide wheel in front. This design proved to be very popular and it was named the Bath wheelchair, after the town in which Dawson lived.

The first wheel to have two large push wheels at the back, and two smaller swivel wheels in front, was made in 1869. Over the next few years, a few extra features were added, such as a hollow tyre on the push wheels, for added comfort. In 1881, the extra push rims were added, making it far easier for the user to self-propel.

Modernised Wheelchairs in 20th Century

In the 1900’s, spoked wheels were added, allowing a bit of extra “shock absorption” and offering a more comfortable ride. The first motorised chair made its appearance in 1916.

The very first folding wheelchair was built by Harry Jennings in 1932. It was made from tubular steel, making it lighter than its solid predecessors. Jennings, who was an engineer, designed this chair for a friend, Herbert Everest. The two got together to perfect and improve the product and so Everest & Jennings was born.

The first wheelchairs relied on someone to push or propel them forward, which in the case of quadriplegics, meant they were reliant on others to keep them mobile. This is where the invention of the motorised wheelchairs proved to be most useful.

The need became far more urgent after WWII, when soldiers returning from the war needed to be given back some semblance of normality. The first successful electric-powered wheelchair was built by a Canadian team of inventors, headed up by one George Klein.

Final Thought

When looking at the vast range of wheelchairs available in the modern world, it is clear we have come a long way since the very first wheelchair. However, the need they fulfil remains the same.

The wheelchair gives mobility to those who would otherwise be immobile. In doing so, it gives these folks far more independence and autonomy. They are also able to go about their business with dignity and poise. So, to the unknown inventor from 1595, we salute you. You began the journey that has spanned hundreds of years, evolving every step of the way.

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