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The Evolution of Wheelchairs

Wheelchairs change the lives of those with partial or complete mobility impairments every day; modern wheelchairs have become lightweight and compact, powered and even adapted for sports and standing.

In 1595, King Phillip II of Spain was sketched in a wheelchair that somewhat resembles a stationary reclining lawn chair; in 1680, Confucius was depicted being pushed in a wheelchair that resembles a roman chariot.  It wasn’t until 1665 that we see the first user propelled wheelchair, it was large, made of wood and appeared very heavy to maneuver.

In the USA, wheelchairs started being produced in the 19th century during the industrial revolution and were primarily made by bicycle and carriage makers.  The wooden wheels became metal with rubber tires and user comfort started taking form with padded areas and better arm and leg rests.  The 20th century brought us some of the best changes with folding wheelchairs, lightweight wheelchair, power, seating systems and more.

In the 21st century, we see the introduction of titanium, magnesium and carbon fiber and specialty wheelchair designers began developing improved sports wheelchairs, accessories and even self-balancing chairs to suit every individual’s needs.

To read more about the evolution of wheelchairs and to see pictures visit the United Spinal Association.