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The History of Wheelchairs and Their Development

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The History of Wheelchairs and Their Development


Wheelchairs are one of the most effective and widely used types of medical support devices today. They are used in hospitals, retirement homes and private dwellings. There are dozens and dozens of wheelchair types. They are manual or electric power. They are made for indoors or outdoors, and there are countless customizable features that allow you to choose the perfect wheelchair configuration to meet your functional and comfort needs.


Needless to say, wheelchairs have come a long way since the first iterations. There is uncertainty about when the first wheelchair was invented and who invented it., estimates the first wheelchair was invented between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. They theorize it was possibly invented along with the creation of wheeled furniture and wheelbarrows.


As you can see, there is some ambiguity about the origins of the wheelchair. In this blog, we'll take a look at the history of the wheelchair. We'll go over a timeline of the key developments and innovations that have led to the modern version used by millions of people today.


A Timeline of the History of Wheelchairs

The wheelchair has seen many iterations over the decades. Here is a timeline of the history of the development of the wheelchair:


5th century BCE: The earliest record of a device resembling a wheelchair dates back to China. Early versions came from wheeled furniture designs. It's believed the Chinese used wheelbarrows to move disabled people around.


12th century: It's believed the concept of the wheelbarrow and crude versions of the wheelchair began to be used around this time in Europe.


1655: The first self-propelled wheelchair is developed. It was invented in Germany by disabled watchmaker Stephan Farfler. His design included three wheels and he could move it with the use of a rotary handle on the front wheel. Around the same time frame, German inventor and mechanic, Johann Hautsch, developed a series of rolling chairs.


1760: The bath chair was created by English inventor James Heath. It became a popular way to transport people with illnesses and disabilities, even though it was initially designed for women. The design is similar to a rickshaw. It had a three- and four-wheel design, and it could be pushed or pulled. Other designs were developed so people could be pulled by horse.


18th century: Wheelchairs began to become a normal fixture in medical catalogue. They were advertised as transportation devices for patients. They resembled armchairs with two larger wheels at the front and a smaller wheel at the back.


1901: The basic chair was invented. It closely resembles the modern design of wheelchairs used today. It had a seat, footrests and four wheels – two smaller wheels at the front and two larger at the back.


1932: The folding wheelchair was introduced. 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.


1950: After World War II, demand for wheelchairs spiked. There were thousands of wounded veterans who needed mobility assistance. A Canadian, George Klein, saw the need and invented the electric wheelchair for veterans. The original design was a standard wheelchair with a motor added. Later designs had the motor and battery built into the chair under the seat. Additional developments in ergonomics, controls, comfort, and performance were created as new technologies were developed.


1980: Niche wheelchair designs began to come to market. During this time, the rigid wheelchair was created. It was intended for athletes. They are self-propelling and some can reach speeds of up to 30 km/hr.


The Future of Wheelchairs

There is no doubt modern wheelchairs have complex designs and functionality. Implementation of new technology, robotics and artificial intelligence will lead the way for future designs. We are now at the point in the development of the wheelchair where inventors are working on a device that allows people to control the wheelchair with their minds.

Other modern designs include the push rim activated power assisted wheelchair.


Explore Wheelchair Solutions

At Maidesite, we offer a large selection of wheelchair solutions to provide you with greater accessibility at home or when out on the go. Whether you are looking for a manual or power wheelchair, we have options for you to consider.