The History of Wheelchairs

  • 6th century - this is the earliest found image of a wheelchair. It is incised in stone on a Chinese sarcophagus.
  • 16th century - King Philip II of Spain used an elaborate rolling chair with movable arm and leg rests.
  • 1700 - King Louis XIV used a "roulette" for moving about while recovering from an operation.
  • 18th century - the first wheelchair that resembles today's design. It had two large front wooden wheels and one caster in rear.
  • 19th and 20th centuries - following the American Civil war and World War I, the first wheelchairs were built with wooden frames, wicker seats, adjustable arm rests, footrests, and large spoked wheels.
  • 1894 - a U.S. patent was filed for a wheelchair with a fixed frame, adjustable surfaces, firm wicker seats, and large rear wheels for self-propulsion.
  • 1932 - Herbert Everest (an injured mining engineer) and Harold Jennings (a mechanical engineer) collaborated to design the first folding frame wheelchair. They went on to form the company that is today known as Everest & Jennings or E&J.
  • 1937 - a patent was filed for the x-folding frame wheelchair. Sam Duke also marketed a folding wheelchair at same time.
  • 1950s - Everest & Jennings developed the first powered wheelchair. They followed the development of transistor-controlled motors and adapted it to thier interest by adding a motor to their manual wheelchair design,
  • 1952 - the beginning of wheelchair sports occurred with the first games held at the Stoke Mandeville Rehabilitation Center in England.
  • 1964 - the first Paralympic games were held in Tokyo, Japan.
  • 1975 - Bob Hall competed in Boston Marathon.
  • 1970/80 - revolution in lighter weight manual chairs driven by the need and desires of wheelchair athletes.
  • 1980s - microprocessor-controlled powered wheelchairs were developed, which allowed customization of controls to meet the needs of more user needs.
  • 1980-90s - the revolution in powered wheelchair design, control, styles, range or travel distance, suspension, maneuverability, seating and other user options.


  • How to Select and Use Manual Wheelchairs, by A. Bennett Wilson, Jr., Rehabilitation Press, Box 380, Topping, VA. 1992. ISBN: 1-880902-04-4
  • Lecture at the International Seating Symposium "Wheeling in the New Millenium" by Dr. Bonita Sawatsky, Department of Orthopedics, BC Children's Hospital, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6H 3V4. This lecture on the history of wheelchairs is now on WheelchairNet.

Other sources of information about the history of wheelchairs:

  • Cooper R. A. (1996). A Perspective on the Ultralight Wheelchair Revolution, Technology and Disability, Vol. 5, pp. 383-392.
  • Cooper R. A. (1999). Engineering Manual and Electric Powered Wheelchairs, Critical Reviews in Biomedical Engineering, Vol. 27, No. 1&2, pp. 27-74.
  • Cooper R. A. (1998). Wheelchairs: A Guide to Selection and Configuration, , New York, NY: Demos Medical Publishers.

Last Updated: 3-2-2006

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Please note: This information is provided a archival information from the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Wheeled Mobility from 1993 to 2002.

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