Wheelchairs and mobility scooters greatly enhance the quality of lives of millions of people in the U.S. who find it difficult or impossible to walk without assistance. Beyond the benefit of improved mobility, wheelchairs and mobility scooters enable many people to lead more productive lives at home and in the workplace and help foster feelings of independence and self-confidence. Following are some interesting facts about these remarkable devices:
*It is believed that wheelchairs have existed at least since the 6th Century B.C., based on an image found on a stone slate in China as well as a depiction of a child resting on a wheeled bed depicted on a Greek vase from the same era.
*The first historical figure to use a wheelchair was King Philip II of Spain who used one that had both arm and leg rests during the late 16th Century because he found it difficult to walk due to a case of severe gout.
*Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, used a wheelchair from 1933 to 1945 because he was unable to walk unassisted after he contracted polio. Perhaps because of the stigma attached to disabilities, only one photograph exists that shows President Roosevelt in his wheelchair.
*In 1655, Stephen Farfler, a paraplegic German watchmaker, built a self-propelling chair on a three wheel chassis. Historians believe that Farfler’s invention was a precursor to today’s bicycles and tricycles.
*In 1900 the first wheelchairs with spoke wheels were manufactured.
*The first mass-produced electric wheelchair was developed by Canadian inventor George Klein who created the device to help seriously injured veterans during World War II. However, in 1916 a tricycle was outfitted with a 1.5 horsepower engine in what is believed to be the first motorized wheelchair.
*The first mobility scooter was introduced by Sears and Roebuck in 1954. Dubbed as an electric wheelchair, the scooter wasn’t popular and was soon out of production.
*The first folding, tubular wheelchair was built in 1932 by an engineer named Harry Jennings. Jennings’ device is quite similar to modern-day folding wheelchairs.
*In 1974, the first wheelchair marathon was held in Toledo, Ohio. Bob Hall, a 24-year old paraplegic won in the event in a time of 2 hours and 54 minutes. The following year, Hall completed the Boston Marathon in his wheelchair as an unofficial contestant.
*According to the Guinness Book of World Records, a daredevil named Doc Romeo completed the first verified back flip while in a wheelchair in 2008.
*Romanian paraplegic Vasile Stoica completed a 36,000 round-the-world journey in his wheelchair in 1999, traveling through Australia, Asia, North America and Europe. Stoica holds the world record for the longest 24-hour wheelchair excursion, covering 132 kilomoters.
*The longest wheelchair basketball game in history was held in 2004 by students and staff members from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The grueling contest lasted 26 hours and three minutes.