Learn All About Wheelchair History

close up of wheelchair wheel with woman's hand on wheel

Mobility devices have long been a source of freedom and self-sufficiency for those with limitations, but these tools have changed rapidly throughout the years. When were wheelchairs invented, and who invented the wheelchair? Let’s take a look back at wheelchair history and how we moved from simple wooden devices to full-fledged wheelchair vans. Then, find the right solution for your needs at Freedom Motors USA, one of the premier Freedom Mobility van dealerships delivering to Los Angeles, CA.


The First Wheelchair

Pinpointing exactly when were wheelchairs invented and who invented the wheelchair is tricky, but the first images of wheeled chairs began to emerge way back in 525 C.E. in both Greek and Chinese artwork. At this point of wheelchair history, these devices were more like transport chairs and less like your modern day mobility device. These portable thrones were made of materials like leather and iron with built-in comfort footrests!

Early Mobility Aids

By the 1600s, inventors began to fine-tune the idea of a wheelchair. No longer an accessory for the elite, these early mobility aids made the most of early technology:

  • 1600s: Stephen Farfler utilized his skills as a watchmaker to build a self-propelled mobility aid with cranks and cogwheels.
  • 1700s: John Dawson created a three-wheeled covered chaise with steering rods, which was pushed from behind.
  • 1800s: The 1800s saw the first wheelchairs that utilized a design familiar to modern day wheelchairs. In 1869, an unknown inventor took out a patent for a chair that was self-propelled and had large rear wheels.
  • Early 1900s: In the 1900s, wheelchairs began to offer a less bulky, more transportable design. In 1932, an engineer named Harry Jennings designed a folding tubular chair made out of steel for his friend Herbert Everest. If those names sound familiar, maybe it’s because the pair went on to be the founders of Everest and Jennings, a company that monopolized the wheelchair industry for decades.
  • Late 1900s: Powered wheelchairs used small gas engines or batteries to move with foot-operated controls, offering a new level of freedom mobility. In 1953, George Klein invented the first electric wheelchair as an aid for WWII veterans, but it wasn’t until 1956 that his electric chair was mass produced for the public.

Wheelchair Vans Enter the Industry

Van dealerships saw many changes after World War II, but the introduction of the wheelchair van was a huge milestone for many Americans. General Motors and Ford created specialized vehicles for veterans with disabilities. These wheelchair vans included modifications like alternate pedal configurations, unique hand controls, extensions, and more. 

  • 1963: Using parts from children’s toys and lawn mowers, Ralph Braun pieced together the blueprint for the mobility scooter on the market.
  • 1987: Chrysler debuted the first wheelchair-accessible minivan with side-entry ramp system.
  • 2011: The MV-1 became the first production-made purpose-built vehicle that was designed for people with disabilities, seating six adults and two full-size wheelchairs.

Find Out More With Freedom Motors USA

Whether you’re looking for wheelchair vans or information about freedom mobility, feel free to contact us at Freedom Motors USA in Battle Creek. We’re happy to serve our customers in Dallas, TX and Orlando, FL as one of the leading van dealerships, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us at any time!

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