Wheelchair Invention and Its Impact: A Comprehensive Guide

Wheelchairs have made life more convenient for those who need them. But who invented the wheelchair? Read this article to learn the history of this device.

We’re all familiar with the wheelchair.

After all, the World Health Organization considers it a basic human right for people with limited mobility to have one.

But have you wondered where the first wheelchair began? This article will give you the full history of the wheelchair.

History of Wheelchairs

Follow the history of the wheelchair as it evolved from a simple chair with wheels that had to be pushed to a chair that could be easily propelled by whoever was seated.

Early Wheelchairs

There’s evidence that the idea of wheelchairs began in China and Greece between the 6th and 5th centuries BC.

Actually, a frieze on a Greek vase had a child’s bed depicted on it — creating the first combination of wheeled furniture.

Meanwhile, in China, it’s believed they first used wheelbarrows to move both heavy objects and disabled people around.

Wheelchairs in the 16th Century

Wheelchairs 16th Century

The most prominent example of wheelchair use in this century is that used by King Philip II of Spain. He suffered severe gout, making walking difficult.

So, an unknown inventor built what was then called an invalid’s chair. This looked like a portable throne or modern-day highchair.

It had fancy upholstery, a backrest, leg rests, and four wheels.

It was more similar to modern transport chairs since it had to be pushed from behind by a servant.

Wheelchairs in the 17th Century

17th Century Wheelchair

In 1655, a paraplegic watchmaker named Stephan Farfler created the first self-propelled wheelchair.

However, his design was closer to a hand bike than an actual wheelchair. That’s because it was based on a three-wheel chassis with cogs and hand cranks.

It was also around this time when German inventor and mechanic Johann Hautsch designed a series of rolling chairs.

Wheelchairs in the 18th Century

Wheelchairs in the 18th Century

Bath was a famous spa town since its mineral-rich spring waters had healing properties.

But the 18th century is also important in the history of the wheelchair. That’s because it’s when the Bath chair was created.

Around 1750, James Heath created a wheelchair with two large wheels at the back and a small front wheel. A person steered it using a stiff handle.

In 1783, John Dawson also designed his version of the Bath chair. It resembled modern wheelchairs, with two large wheels connected to a small pivoting front wheel.

It was very versatile. That’s because this Bath chair could be a self-propelled wheelchair, pushed by someone else, or pulled by a horse or donkey.

Wheelchairs in the 19th Century

In 1869, another self-propelling chair was invented. It was much less bulky than the Bath chairs but still not transportable. Later on, a model with push rims became available.

Meanwhile, in 1887 Atlantic City, William Hayday modified the rolling chairs so people with disabilities could enjoy the sea breeze by the boardwalk.

Wheelchairs in the 20th Century

A lot of improvements were made to the wheelchair in this century.

For instance, a man named Herbert Everest broke his back in a mining accident, leaving him disabled.

In 1933, he and Harry Jennings founded the Everest and Jennings Company. It improved the wheelchair, making a folding X-frame for the first folding wheelchair.

The 1930s also saw sports wheelchairs, which showed how personal ambition can cause technological advancements.

Then, in 1950, George Klein invented the electric wheelchair.

Lightweight manual wheelchairs were created in the mid-1970s.

Modern Wheelchairs

Wheelchairs in the 18th Century

Nowadays, the wheelchair is more than just a chair with wheels slapped on it. Many modern designs have continued to appear in the market.

For one, the stair-climbing wheelchair was invented and briefly marketed in 2001. Unfortunately, it was discontinued for being too expensive.

In 2002, Diwakar Vaish created a fully-functioning prototype of a mind-controlled wheelchair — which is still being improved to this day.

Who Invented the Wheelchair?

If we’re talking about who invented the wheelchair as we know it today, it would be John Dawson.

While it looked significantly different, you can still trace subsequent wheelchair designs to this one.

However, you can also credit Farfler for inspiring the first self-propelled wheelchairs.

Impact of Wheelchairs on Society

The wheelchair has certainly steered society into a better place. Below is a quick glance at how it has impacted our present day.

1. Benefits to People With Disabilities

In general, wheelchairs for the elderly and disabled people to be more mobile around the house. This improves both their physical and mental health.

With enough practice, someone with spinal cord injuries or musculoskeletal problems will be able to maneuver the wheelchair with ease.

A well-fitting wheelchair that’s comfortable and familiar to the user can reduce problems like pressure sores and poor posture too.

2. Rise of Specialized Wheelchairs

The wheelchair industry has produced different types of wheelchairs aside from the typical manual wheelchair.

For instance, the beach wheelchair was invented by Michael Demming, who wanted his quadriplegic wife to move about outdoors.

Meanwhile, the folding wheelchair was more portable and lighter than the typical wheelchair.

3. Wheelchair Accessibility

Wheelchairs can be expensive, depending on their features. In fact, even the most basic manual chairs can cost around $100.

Fortunately, some organizations and fundraisers help those in need get or afford a wheelchair — especially those in developing countries.

However, you can also get financial help from Medicare and insurance companies too.

4. Increased Accessibility to Public Places

A wheelchair improves a user’s independence outside the home as well.Public places are trying to incorporate solutions like ramps to increase accessibility for wheelchair users. This helps them be more involved in community life.

Frequently Asked Questions

There’s so much history behind these amazing wheeled seats.

Below are a few more questions that can give you more insight into them:

Was the First Wheelchair Invented in China or Greece?

It’s still being debated whether the first wheelchairs were from China or Greece.

A stone slate from China and a frieze on a vase from Greece both showed wheeled furniture.

Who Invented the Wheelchair Lift?

The first prototype was created by Ralph Braun in 1966.

This expanded opportunities for wheelchair users since it made moving around much easier.

Who Invented the Wheelchair Ramp?

Ramps have been used for thousands of years to make moving materials easier. In fact, it was even used to build pyramids.

However, the first person who made ramps specially for wheelchairs might be George Klein — who invented the electric wheelchair.Then, thanks to the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, wheelchair ramps became widespread in public buildings.


Since the beginning of time, the wheelchair has helped people with limited mobility move around.

The first wheelchair was nothing more than a chair with small wheels.

Then eventually, it gained an efficient propulsion mechanism and three wheels that allowed the one on the chair to use it themselves.

Slowly, this evolved even more to become the wheeled chairs we know today.

With a bit of occupational therapy, users can handle the modern wheelchair with confidence and ease.