The original wheelchair for the disabled was invented in 1783 by John Dawson “Wheelchair maker” of Bath — hence the name “Bath chair”. It had three wheels, the small front one being used for steering. It was a very good design for the era.
However the biggest impact on the wheelchair was the invention and growing popularity of the motor car.
For two reasons: the first being that car accidents were causing more disabled people, and the second was the desire of the disabled to be transported by car — requiring a folding, lightweight design.
Herbert A Everest teamed up with HC Jennings to manufacturer the first folding metal wheelchair in Los Angeles USA in 1933. Samuel Drake designed a folding metal wheelchair quite independently from Everest and Jennings the following year.
The design of the wheelchair has remained essentially unchanged since that period between the world wars — a remarkable achievement that shows it as a classic design for functionality and cost efficiency. As such it may be safely declared a design icon. In fact the international symbol for access depicts a person in a wheelchair.
Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury started a rehabilitation probram that has led to all sorts of sporting activities done by wheelchair users, and so, in recent times wheelchair design has developed on an individual basis to accommodate desires and needs — including cambering the wheels, and using new strong and lightweight materials.