The History of the stairlift
Read our fascinating stairlift history below.
It is well known that King Henry VIII’s was obese measuring 54” around the waistline and possibly weighing up to 30 stone. Therefore one can only imagine how difficult it was for him to get around and climbing stairs must have been nearly impossible.
“a chair… that goeth up and down”
In 2009, TV Historian Dr. David Starkey claimed he discovered evidence of an early form of stairlift in a list of the possessions of Henry VIII. A “chairthrone” or “stairthrone” to aid him in ascending and descending the 20 steps at Whitehall Castle. It is believed that the stair lift was human powered, using a block and tackle system borrowed from one of the King’s warships. Servants would have used the ropes and pulleys to lift the huge monarch up the 20 foot staircase.
Stairlift history in the USA
Frederick Muffett, a ‘carpenter and beerhouse keeper’ of Royal Tunbridge Wells, was credited with registering the first workable design for a stairlift in the late 1800s. He patented “an invalid chair with tramway for use on staircases.” Although there there seems no evidence that his plans moved from design to a workable lift.
In the 1920s, C.C. Crispen, a Pennsylvania self-taught mechanical engineer and entrepreneur, built the first prototype of the inclining chair. He called it the Inclin-ator. Crispen got the idea for a climbing seat which was capable of travelling between floors when visiting a neighbour who was confined to an upstairs bed for medical recovery.
Crispen’s design although refined and improved has laid the basis of modern stairlifts. Many design features in some of the earliest models are still used in newer ones today. Chair pivoting at the top of the steps and various degrees of folding ability are examples of this. Of course, many improvements and innovations have been made over the years. Installations are easier, there are more safety features built into some models, ease of use continues to improve, and in 1992, battery operation was introduced, which lowered the cost of installations and gave a much improved ride quality as well as the ability to operate during power outages.
Within a few days, Crispen’s idea had transformed from a mere concept to the beginnings of a US Patent. His engineering experience allowing him to develop a folding wooden chair with a footrest, which used a motor wired into the house’s standard electrics to travel up and down on a steel rail on rollers. He named it the Inclin-ator, conveying the idea of an elevator which worked on an incline.
The Inclinator Company Of America
In 1924, Crispen was displayed his Inclin-ator in the Philadelphia Electric Company’s showroom. This led to the development into The Inclinator Company of America.
Some of the first stairlifts to be produced commercially were advertised and sold in the USA in the 1930s by the Inclinator Company of America. Many users at the time were victims of polio although Crispen’s inventions also caught the eye of a few famous names, who had them installed in their homes. These included, among others, inventor Thomas Edison, business magnate John D. Rockerfeller, automotive founders Henry Ford and Walter Chrysler, and entertainer Groucho Marx.
The popularity of the Inclin-ator led to the invention of the first residential elevator, named the Elevette, which gave an alternative to the Inclin-ator for homes with winding staircases and could be custom-made to fit the available space or made large enough to fit a wheelchair inside if required.
From the 1930s two American companies began producing stairlifts. The American Stair-Glide Co. began in Kansas City and the Cheney Co. in New Berlin, Wisconsin. The Wecolator Stair Lift by Cheney was a top selling stair lift for curved stairs and could be seen in popular Hollywood films including “Gremlins” and the TV series “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Other notable stairway elevator scenes were in the film “The Farmers Daughter” and a funny episode of “Seinfeld.”
Both companies were acquired by Access Industries in 1991. Access produced residential elevators and wheelchair platform lifts. Access Industries also produced a popular line of stair lifts including the Silver-Glide, Stair-Glide, the Citia, and Excel stair lift. In 1999, Access Industries was acquired by ThyssenKrupp Elevator, a German based company. Newer model stair lifts by ThyssenKrupp include the Levant, Comfort, and the Flow II stairlift for curved stairs.
Stairlift history in the United Kingdom
The Stannah Company
Stairlift history in the United Kingdom. The Stannah company is credited with the development of the stairlift in the UK. The Stannah Company began building elevator and lift systems in 1867. In 1975 Stannah produced their first stair lift. Stannah Stairlifts is still a privately owned company which distributes their products worldwide.
Stannah were a victim of their own success. Stannah’s lifts were so good that they spawned a number of other stairlift companies who were able to get a foothold by buying up secondhand Stannah stairlifts modifying them and reselling them.
Another British stairlift company is Acorn Stair Lifts (began business in 1992). Acorn began by buying up used lifts made by other manufacturers & reselling them. They soon designed and built their own stair lift, the Acorn Superglide. Acorn entered the United States stair lift market selling their cheaply-priced Superglide through the internet and call centers direct to consumers for do-it-yourself installations.
Bruno independent Living Aids is a family-owned business started in 1984 that distributes a wide range of accessibility products worldwide. Based in Oconomowoc, WI, they are noted for vehicle lifts, turning automotive seating, and a popular US made line of stair lifts including the Electra-Ride LT, Electra-Ride II, Electra-Ride Elite, and Electra-Ride III curved rail stair lift.
I hope you enjoyed our stairlift history. Keep an eye out for our future posts.
- Disability History Museum
- Elevator World, Volume One, No 1 January 1953
- Oxford Dictionary definition
- The Free Dictionary definition
- Wordreference definition
- Wiktionary definition
- Collins Dictionary definition
- The Chambers Dictionary, Chambers, 2003
- Stannah Stairlifts
- Bruno Stairlifts
- The American Stair-Glide Co.