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Wheelchairs Throughout the Years

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Hello All,

This is another old piece. This one comes from September 29, 2014, when we were on our previous website. We hope you enjoy.

The wheelchair is one of the most common adaptive devices which individuals with spinal cord injuries use.  Let’s look back through the years and find out what they looked like throughout history.

Confucius and Children

Confucius and Children by an unknown Chinese artist.

1) The earliest documentation of the existence of a wheelchair is dubious.  Some sources say that the first known image of a wheelchair is from the 6th Century B.C.E., and was carved upon a stone on a Chinese sarcophagus.  However, we were unable to find clear evidence of this, mostly because we were unable to find a picture, or any back story to this claim.  The oldest picture of a wheelchair, to our knowledge is dated to 1680, and depicts Confucius and his disciples, with the wise one being transported on what appears more like a handcart than what we think of as the modern wheelchair.

Drawing of King Phillip II and his custom built wheelchair.

Drawing of King Phillip II and his custom built wheelchair.

2) There are many examples of wheelchairs, usually furniture with wheels attached, being used in almost every location and era since the invention of writing.  Often the wheelchair user was not traditionally disabled, but rather employed people to wheel them around because they felt that they were too important or rich to walk.  In any case, there are only a few well documented examples of wheelchair use.  The earliest, and most known is King Phillip II of Spain (1527-98), and his use of a custom-built chair for when he suffered from gout, a complex form of arthritis, later in life.

Stephen Farfler’s “Manumotive Carriage”

Stephen Farfler’s “Manumotive Carriage”

3) In 1655, Stephen Farfler, thought to have been either a paraplegic or an amputee, invented what has come to be considered the first self-propelled wheelchair.  His device is also considered by some to be a precursor for the modern day tricycle, and the bicycle.

4) Throughout the 18th Century several prototypes and improvements where made in wheelchair design.  One of the most popular designs was the Bath wheelchair, invented in Bath and designed to take wealthy individuals to spa waters.

Wheelchair at the Museum of Bath

Wheelchair at the Museum of Bath

The Dated Patent for an “Invalid Chair”

The Dated Patent for an “Invalid Chair”

5) More modern designs started to appear after the American Civil War.  These included wheels design for individuals to propel themselves, and rely less on assistance for getting around.  These led to the first US patent for a wheelchair in 1869.

 

 

 

 

6) The first folding frame wheelchair was invented in 1932 by Herbert Everest, an injured miner, and Harold Jennings, a mechanical engineer.  These individuals eventually formed the company known today as Everest and Jennings.

Everest Jennings Folding Frame

Everest Jennings Folding Frame

7) In the 1950s Everest and Jennings developed the first powered wheelchairs for mass production.

A prototype of the Motorized Chair

A prototype of the Motorized Chair

8) Throughout the 1980s wheelchairs powered by microprocessors were in development, which allowed for far more customizable controls.

9) 1990s- Today: Wheelchair design, maneuverability, suspension, travel distance, and comfort continue to be fine-tuned.

Modern Wheelchair

Modern Wheelchair

10) Wheelchairs of the Future?

We hope you have enjoyed our look at wheelchairs throughout the years.  Take a look at this fascinating link to future wheelchair concepts.

Cheers!

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