Stairway chair lifts - a brief history

Stairway chair lifts have a rather interesting history. When you get right down to it, we take these kinds of devices for granted these days, especially with the way costs of electronic items has dropped. Stairlift chairs were once much more expensive. When they were first produced commercially, it was in the 1930s. A company called the Inclinator Company of America (who still exist in fact and still sell wheelchair lifts, dumb waiters and stair package lifts among other things) produced some of the earliest stairway chair lifts for people who had suffered polio. Polio is an awful disease that is a very acute viral infection. One of the side effects of polio is often deformity of the legs or even paralysis, so it is easy to see why people who got it would have a need for some help going up and down stairs.

In fact the Inclinator Company of America really adapted a design by a man name Crispen. He was a self-taught engineer who developed an inclining chair which he termed the Inclin-ator. As for many inventions, Crispen created his device to help a friend travel between the floors of their house.

However, there is some evidence that the very first stairway chair lift was invented at the command of King Henry VIII. He was a fairly large man - reputed to be about 30 stone - I mean that's large by anyone's standards. Anyway, Henry was injured in a joust and had a chair developed to help him get up and down stairs at Whitehall Palace in London. Of course Henry's stairlift throne didn't rely on batteries and modern electronic as ours do, instead, he had servants haul him up and down on a block and tackle system which was also used on his warship the Mary Rose. Royal records describe Henry's invention as a “chair …. that goeth up and down” and would have travelled the 20ft staircase at Whitehall Palace. Henry was apparently plagued by the injury to his calf that he sustained jousting for the rest of his life and had to have it continually lanced. In addition to his rather remarkable lift, he also owned 3 wheelchairs. Thank goodness we have come a long way since then and with modern stairlifts, the comfort and convenience has been considerably improved to the point that anyone can get one installed in their house, not just a king with access to a lot of servants. These days, instead of block and tackle system, most stairlift carriages are driven by a rack and pinion system or pulled by a cable or chain.

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