First designed for victims of polio the initial commercial stairlift was created by the Inclinator Company of America in the 1930's. The design itself however was adapted from a rudimentary unit that was made in the 1920's by a Pennsylvanian inventor named C.C. Crispen. A self taught engineer, Crispen was inspired to create the unit for a friend who had difficulty getting up and down the stairs of his own home. He managed to develop a working prototype of the device that soon became the foundation for the modern lift.
Even so, there are many who claim that the stairlift is not an American invention at all and dates back to the era of King Henry the VIII. The crude device was crafted after the king injured himself in a jousting accident and consisted of a block and tackle system that was hauled by several servants.
Whoever was credited with the actual invention, many companies have been able to improve on the design offering a variety of styles and systems for individuals in need of assisted in home mobility.
The greatest of these innovations was the addition of various types of rail systems. The basic premise of the rail system is to create a reliable pulley station/port for the actual chairs. The rail can be made of aluminum or steel and is placed on the wall alongside the stairs in question. Rails can come flat or curved and are chosen based on the design of the stairwell.
Ramps made out of aluminum or steel are also a welcome addition to the device, providing a new option for those who have wide and/or small steps where a rail system may not be as necessary.
The basic design of rails or ramp platforms has not changed over time but the carriage system has evolved to become far more efficient and to deliver a smoother ride. The cable and chain drive mechanism was the very first type of carriage system used for the stairlift. This mechanism was later improved upon via a rack and pinion system which utilizes a pair of gears that engage the teeth of a flat bar (the rack). The system usually engages a circular rotation that helps the gears move the chair up or down.
With these bases, stairlift manufactures were able to come up with numerous types of units that would improve the lives of those who needed to move about but had difficulty doing so for a number of reasons.
Early systems concentrated on affixing wheelchairs to rails but specially made lift chairs soon followed. If you are wheelchair dependant, the former choice would be best as you are more familiar with this type of transport. Drawbacks-the wheelchair systems have to be built to order, are harder to install and can be more expensive than a simple chair lift. One should weigh the wheelchair versus simple chairlift option before making a firm decision in this regard.
In the beginning, the focus of the design was primarily on indoor maneuverability but modern units can be utilized both in and out of doors. Some restaurants and businesses even have outdoor models installed for the convenience of their customers.
Easy to access and use switches, toggles and buttons have evolved over time as well culminating in electric and remote controlled devices that make navigating the chairs even easier. The speed of the chairs can also be controlled, putting even more control in the hands of the chair user. Another modern convenience that comes with the purchase of a contemporary stairlift is a warranty that protects the purchaser in the event of disrepair.
The stairlift has evolved since the days of King Henry VIII and some can even be easily installed by the buyer. With these units becoming even more affordable the elderly or those with debilitating conditions can maintain a greater degree of autonomy with ease and tremendous style.
Andy West is a writer on a variety of topics including medical supplies, and medical devices for the elderly or disabled.