There are a lot of ways in which inventions have improved people’s lives, especially for elderly people and those living with physical disabilities. For anyone who has lost the ability to walk, the wheelchair has proved to be a life-changing invention. If you have or care for someone who has limited mobility and lack a wheelchair it can make life incredibly difficult. We all know the importance of the wheelchairs but how many people know how this useful equipment came to be and how it’s evolved? As much it’s considered to be an invention of the modern times, the idea of the wheelchair can be traced back to several thousand years ago. Here’s a brief history of the wheelchair.

Early wheelchair developments

As it’s commonly said, necessity is the mother of all inventions, and this is true for the development of the first wheelchairs too. The wheelchairs that were first developed were repurposed wheelbarrows. According to Chinese records all the way from the second century, it’s been found out that people with disabilities were transported using a farm tool that was rather common. Many centuries of innovation passed, and Chinese art began to show images of wheelchairs that were specifically meant for people.

Early wheelchair

The ‘invalid chair’

As much as the Chinese are recorded as the first to come up with wheeled transportation for people with disabilities, an invention that would lead to the modern wheelchair device was sparked by a European King, who was disabled. The king of Spain who was known as King Philip II used what was then referred to as an ‘invalid chair’, that had leg rests and adjustable arms. The name of the inventor disappeared in history but his inspiration still lives on.


Stephen Farfler, a 22-year-old German paraplegic watchmaker came up with a wheelchair with 3 wheels to aid him in his motion. This was in the mid-17th Century. The feature that set his invention apart is a handle that was self-propelling. This feature eliminated the need for a caretaker or servant for transportation.

The bath chair

A single century after the Farfler’s innovation, a bath chair was invented. The bath chair was invented by James Heath, who was from Bath. This was a plush chair that had a folding hood that was mounted on either 3 or 4 wheels. It was meant to be drawn with a donkey or a horse. However, it had a lever for enabling the rider to change direction. In the year 1783, John Dawson, an English inventor came up with a version of the bath chair that was commercially viable. Though there were other wheelchair versions at the time, the bath chair was the one that was preferred by most.

Push rim wheelchairs

Through to the mid-19th century, the bath chair dominated the market but as much as it was luxurious, it was uncomfortable, depended on others for movement and was also heavy. Later in the 19th century, rubber wheels were added that had push rims. This brought back the self-propulsion

The folding wheelchair

In the year 1932, Harold Jennings, an American engineer came up with a steel-framed wheelchair for his friend Herbert Everest. This wheelchair was collapsible, and they improved on it and went ahead to produce it en masse after starting their own company known as Everest & Jennings.

The motorised wheelchair

With the improvement of the self-propelled, foldable wheelchairs, the lives of people with limited mobility became better and better throughout the 20th century. The Everest & Jennings Company came up with a wheelchair to help people with limited strength of the upper body. It was a motorised wheelchair. An inventor from Canada then came up with an invention of a wheelchair with powerful control of motor and joystick. The inventor was known as George Klein


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