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How stairlifts have evolved over the years

30th October 2013

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

Although they are an integral part of facilitating mobility amongst the disabled community, the stairlift is a device that is perhaps not often thought about in depth. While it is an established part of everyday elderly life, however, the stairlift also has a long and intriguing history that dates back as far as the 16th century.

Early history

While the design and use of the first stairlift is widely thought of as originating from the ideas of Pennsylvanian self-taught engineer C.C. Crispen in the 1920s, a 2009 report found that a form of stairlift was being used by Henry VIII as early as the 16th century.

The 30-stone famed Tudor is known for his many wives and decadent lifestyle but it has now also been discovered that he may have been the first stairlift owner in the world. Rather than requiring the aid because of a specific medical condition such as psoriatic arthritis, which is the cause of many mobility problems in the present day, King Henry VIII had a drastic need for the device due to his excessive weight. So, in order to climb the 20-foot staircase at Whitehall Palace, it is thought the king had a mobility aid created for him.

Historian Dr David Starkey found evidence of this device in royal records whilst researching a TV documentary in which he found an inventory of Henry VIII’s personal effects, which included ‘a chair...that goeth up and down’. The chair, which has been described as a ‘stairthrone’, nevertheless is a far cry from the contemporary aids available to England’s elderly today.

Image Credit: [Duncan] (flickr.com)

Stairlift development

While it is now known that a stairlift-type device was in fact first used centuries ago, it was until recently thought to have first come about in the 1930s. Before Starkey's research, it was C.C. Crispen, an entrepreneur from Pensylvania, who was believed to be the first to have come up with an idea for the revolutionary aid. In 1923, Crispen thought of a method of aiding his friend to travel from floor to floor, which eventually became a chair that could climb stairs. The idea started when he visited his neighbour who had been confined to his upstairs bed through illness.

Crispen began on plans to create a folding wooden chair with a footrest that moved with the aid of rollers up and down a steel bar that was fastened to the stairs, so that his friend would be able to come downstairs without human aid. After a series of prototypes, this chair became what is now known as the Inclin-ator. It only took a year to fully develop the device and it was first displayed in a showroom in 1924. Crispen was also the inventor of the first residential electric elevator in 1928 to address the problem of homes with a winding staircase.

Stairlift use today

Stairlifts have, of course, come a long way since the days of Crispen and Henry VIII and are now used by many people daily all over Britain. Today, relatively cheap disability aids such as stairlifts and adjustable rise and recliner chairs are readily available to the elderly who struggle to climb stairs and others with mobility difficulties, enabling people to continue living at home and keep a level of independence.

The National Service Framework for Older People was launched in 2001, with the intention of helping the NHS, social care and other organisations provide a better service to the elderly and working to keep the older generation active and healthy. A part of this service is developing services that help the elderly stay living in their own homes and to give them advice on what stairlifts and mobility aids are right for them and how they can benefit their way of life.

With so many companies providing modern stairlifts of all shapes and sizes in contemporary Britain, there is no limit to the choice available to the nation’s elderly and others with limited mobility. Whether it is through joint inflammatory conditions such as arthritis or injury, stairlifts provide an essential service which helps those in need to live a fulfilled life.

Image Credit: Peter Clarke (wikimedia.org)