Here at PB Conversions, we like to know our way around everything we deal with on a daily basis, we decided to have a look into the history of the wheelchair.

The wheelchair has transformed our society very much in terms of mobility for those with a disability. Just like the vehicle adaptions we work on at PB Conversions, if you have a patient who can’t move partially or completely, we can use them to make their movement easy. So, who invented the first wheelchair and when was it invented? 

The answer to these two questions is not particularly clear but let’s have a look into it. There are records of when what was called the “invalids chair” was first noticed. It was invented in 1595 for Philip II who was a Spaniard. The inventor still remains unknown. Again, in the year 1655, a self-propelling chair was built by Stephen Farfler. He built it to move on three wheels. The latter years witnessed the invention of differently functioning wheelchairs. Let’s classify them based on the time of invention.


1. The Late 17th Century (The Bath Wheelchair)

This type of wheelchair is made with two large rear wheels and a front one which is smaller in size. It was invented by John Dawson, a British national in 1783. He named it Bath, after the town Bath in England. Bath wheelchairs were very common and were still being sold in the early years of the 1900s.

2. The 18th Century

A patent was given in 1869 for a wheelchair made to have small casters in front and push the wheel in its rear region. This was the first time this kind of wheelchair model is recorded to have been built. From 1867 to 1875, new rubber wheels were added to these chairs by investors. The wheels were made in close similarity to the ones used with the metal rims of bicycles. Then to make self-propulsion possible, push rims were invented in 1881.

3. The 19th Century

This is the first time wheelchairs were made to work with spoked wheels. The other significant development in this century was when a motorized wheelchair was built. This was 1916 in London.

4. The Folding Wheelchair

The first ever folding wheelchair was built by an engineer known as Harry Jennings in 1932. No other wheelchair had been so close in similarity to the ones we see today. He built it for his friend, Herbert Everest who was a paraplegic. Through this, the two friends founded a company knows as Everest & Jennings. They would, for a long time, dominate the wheelchair market with their company.

5. Electric (Motorized) Wheelchairs

For movement, the very first wheelchairs depended on the ability of the patient to manually turn the wheels. This posed a big problem especially if the patient was in no state to turn the wheel themselves. They would require some other person to push the chair for them. So, manufacturers began to explore the option for self-driving wheelchairs as of 1916. There was little success and the idea was abandoned for some time. However, a team of engineers, led by a Canadian inventor known as George Klein got a breakthrough and built the first electric-powered wheelchair. At the time these engineers were working to assist Canadian World War II veterans who had been injured. The Everest & Jennings Company then mass-produced the motorized wheelchairs from 1956.

6. The Mind-Control Technology 

A new technology known as BCI (Brain-Computer-Interface) has been invented by John Donoghue Braingate. This is being integrated with wheelchair technology to try to help patients who have very limited mobility. The patient can send commands to the computer on the wheelchair.

If you would like to find out more, please get in touch with our friendly team on 01525 850588 or head over to our contact page for more information.  

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If you are a disabled driver, or know a disabled driver in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire or Northamptonshire, please contact PB Conversions for a free no obligation quote to assess what products would benefit you.