by Nirvana
A Business for Social Change
Cost Effective New Housing for the Elderly & Persons With Disabilites
History of the wheelchair

History of the wheelchair

Throughout history, efforts have been made by people with physical disabilities to overcome their locomotion limitation. Right from the first appearance of a disabled person till date, there have been important steps taken to help people with physical disabilities move with ease. From crude crutches to the sophisticated wheelchairs, humans have made inventions to aid the movements of people with physical disabilities. To some extents, some of this history has been documented. For the intent of this article however, the focus is wheelchairs. How wheelchairs evolved from a crude wooden apparatus to manual propulsive device and then finally to an motorized wheelchairs which move automatically.

The first record of wheeled furniture are inscriptions carved on a stone slate in China dating between the 6th and 5th century BCE. However, the first records of people with physical disabilities being transported via wheeled mechanism dates back even further by another 300 years to when the chinese transported disabled people in wheelbarrows. It was not until 525 CE before images of wheeled chairs made specifically for transporting people began to circulate. The Europeans hopped aboard very late. It wasn't until late 1595 before they started creating wheelchairs after this design. The first european wheelchair was made by an unknown inventor from Spain for King Phillip. It was an elaborate wheelchair with armrests but it still suffered from some defects. For one, it lacked sufficient propulsion to be self propelled. Hence, it still required additional aid in propelling it. In design, it looked more like a throne than a modern day wheelchair.

In 1655, Stephan Farffler, a 22 year old watch maker, built the first self propelling chair. He built it on a three-wheel chassis. This design resembled more of a hand bike than a wheelchair. The invalid carriage or Bath chair made the invention more accepted from around 1760.

Modern Wheelchair



In 1933, Harry C. Jennings, Sr. and his disabled friend Herbert Everest, both mechanical engineers, invented the first lightweight, steel, folding, portable wheelchair.Everest had broken his back in a mining accident. They saw the business potential of the invention and went on to become the first mass-market manufacturers of wheelchairs. Their "X-brace" design is still in common use. Though the materials have been updated. The X-brace idea came to Jennings from the men's folding "camp chairs / stools", rotated 90 degrees, used in the outdoors and at the mines.

Advancement in Design.



Following World War II, the electric wheelchair was invented by George Klein to aid injured veterans. Standard chairs were adapted to electric wheelchairs with the attachment of simple motors. From there, electric chair development saw advances in design, maneuverability, reliability and comfort, leading to the modern machines we see moving down the streets today. In recent years, there has been a progressive approach to technological adaptations led by the private sector. This has enabled the exploration and design of “hi-tech” assistive devices. These 21st century designs are pushing the boundaries of technological evolution even further. Imagine…
  • A wheelchair with superior function and mobility
  • The ability to engage in activities without requiring aides.
  • The ability of a wheelchair to be able to go up and down a set of stairs, detecting every move via built-in sensors.
  • The ability for a wheelchair to automatically load the occupant and the wheelchair itself into the car's driver seat so the occupant can safely drive to a destination of their choosing.

This is the future of wheelchair technology!