vintage black and white photo of a man in a wheelchair

Wheelchair History: Through the Years

People with disabilities have been using mobility devices for a long time. There have been many advancements made to wheelchairs and other mobility devices to make them more convenient and help people achieve easier and more comfortable lives. This article covers the rich history of wheelchairs. 

Wheelchair History: The Origins

It's impossible (with current historical knowledge) to know when someone built the first wheelchair. That said, there's evidence in the form of art and writing that suggests people used similar devices in early Greece and China.

The first clearly recorded wheelchair, however, was made for King Phillip II of Spain in 1595. The king had gout late in his life and required a mobility aid. This aid, however, required an attendant, as it was not self-propelling. 

Wheelchair History: The 1700s

The wheelchair needed an upgrade after over 100 years had passed. John Dawson created a wheelchair with three wheels: two in the back and one in the front. He named it after his English town of residence, Bath. 

This chair was self-propelling, and it had a steering aid in the front for when the person using it needed assistance. It could also be adjusted for use with a horse or pony if necessary. 

Wheelchair History: The 1800s

The bath chair needed improvements. It was popular among those who could afford it, but it wasn't comfortable. It was made of different materials for comfort and was even the wheelchair of choice for Queen Victoria. 

In the 1860s, however, wheelchairs that resemble the modern version started to arrive. They had four wheels instead of three, and the wheels were rubber, similar to bicycle wheels.

Wheelchair History: The 1900s

The 1900s brought huge advancements to wheelchairs. The first motorized wheelchair came in 1912, though it was nothing like the motorized wheelchairs that we have today. While the idea was created, it seems as it may not have come to fruition until a few years later.

Not long after in 1932, the first folding wheelchair came into play. This allowed people with disabilities more flexibility with their chairs than ever before. 

Mass-produced, motorized chairs arrived in the 1950s, making life even more accessible.

In the 1990s, sports wheelchairs started being commonly used and manufactured, further aiding their users in their athletic ventures.

Wheelchair History: Today

Wheelchairs today are advanced and incredible. There are wheelchairs for all terrains and weather conditions. Motorized chairs and scooters allow for more independence for a wider range of people. There are constantly new improvements to aid in the quality of life for people with disabilities.

Wheelchair History: How Did We Get Here? 

From the earliest wheelchairs that required attendants to our modern wheelchairs that allow freedom of movement and mobility, the wheelchair has gone through many changes over the past few hundred years. With technology changing at a rapid pace, who knows where we'll be in the years to come? 

For more posts like this, or to learn about some of our own modern mobility products, visit our site!

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