Discover the History of Mobility Devices

At HDS Medallion, we're constantly keeping up on the latest trends in mobility devices. The industry is constantly changing, and the only way to ensure our designer CarryAll bags continue to be as versatile as they are is to keep up with the latest trends in wheelchair, walker, and power chair design. After all, our beautiful bags aren't just for show! However, the future of mobility devices isn't the only interesting facet of these devices. Their past is also fascinating, and we felt the HDS Blog was the perfect place to highlight the history of mobility devices.

Many people assume wheelchairs are a relatively recent invention, but records show that isn't the case. Wheelchairs appear in European and Chinese stone carvings that date back to the beginning of the Middle Ages. Carvings have also been found in Greece that are even older than those. Those designs are significantly different than what we'd see today, but these mean the concept of the wheelchair is well over 2,000 years old! (I bet we could make a stylish HDS Medallion bag work on those ancient devices, too!)
Some VERY early examples of mobility devices.

King Phillip II's wheelchair design, one of the first mobility devicesWe can only infer today as to what the purposes of the wheelchairs in those carvings were. However, we know for certain when the first wheelchair was designed specifically to assist with a disability. The original wheelchair was literally fit for a king. Known by the now-outdated term "invalid's chair," it was invented in 1595 for King Phillip II of Spain. The design was essentially a regular chair with wheels on the legs. It also featured an adjustable backrest and a platform for his legs. The main flaw in this design was that it could not be self-propelled, but it's safe to assume the King wasn't lacking for people who could give him a push.

It would be over fifty years until the first self-propelled wheelchair design would surface. In 1655, a paraplegic German watchmaker named Stephen Farfler put his knowledge of clockwork to work for his body. He invented a chair with three wheels and a rotary system. By cranking the handle, he could propel the chair forward. This mechanical design became popular as a means of transport for the wealthy at the time, among both those who physically required it as well as those who did not.

Farfler's self-propelled mobility device and an early wheelchair known as the Bath ChairAt this point, the use of wheelchairs for medical purposes began to take off. They began appearing in medical instrument catalogs, being advertised as a way to transport patients. In England, James Heath created a new design he called the Bath Chair. The second design made specifically with the disabled in mind, this proved to be very popular in Victorian England despite it being large and cumbersome. By the following century, wheelchairs made of wood and cane became popular. These were used heavily in the United States following the Civil War.

However, all of these designs carried with them the same inherent flaws. They were large and heavy, and limited in where they could be used. This all changed in 1932. Harry Jennings was an engineer who set out to develop a new wheelchair to help his friend Herbert Everest. Jennings designed a folding design made of tubular steel. Lightweight and portable, this design completely changed how wheelchairs were perceived. The design was so popular, the two engineers formed the Everest and Jennings company and became the leading manufacturer of wheelchairs worldwide.

The first portable, lightweight wheelchair that changed mobility devices foreverMuch like how Jennings' design was in response to the need of his friend, the first power chairs came from a similar need. However, this was on a much grander scale. After World War II, medical advances meant soldiers were surviving spinal injuries that weren't treatable in the past. This created a massive influx of disable veterans who could not operate current wheelchairs without assistance. Canadian inventor George Klein saw the need for a self-propelled wheelchair. Partnering with other scientists, the Canadian government, and disabled veterans, Klein invented the first motorized wheelchair. While his design was essentially a standard wheelchair with a motor attached, it paved the way for the electric power chairs that are so prolific today.

The history of wheelchair design is a fascinating study. In many ways, the history of wheelchairs and other mobility devices are a great way to see how available technology and materials impact a singular concept. It is also a fantastic way to watch a commitment to helping others grow over centuries of effort. Helping people is the main motivator for all of us here at HDS Medallion. We wouldn't be able to succeed in our mission of making attractive and stylish designer CarryAll bags for mobility devices without the efforts of these intrepid and brilliant creators. We're grateful for their commitment to improve the lives of others needing mobility assistance. We're proud to help sustain that tradition ourselves by continuing to design bags that work on traditional and new innovative devices. 


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