Getting Going with Everest & Jennings

The first chair designed for independence was patented in 1937. Mining engineer Herbert Everest had been paralyzed in a mining accident. He wanted mobility to work but his wooden wheelchair confined him. With the help of a friend, mechanical engineer Harry Jennings, he improved the folding wheelchair using airplane technology and material to make it lighter and more practical for use inside and outside the home.

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Letters Patent No. 2,095,411 for Folding Wheelchair, H.A. Everest et al., October 12, 1937, United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Metal rods made the frame lighter. Matching side frames, sliding braces and a fabric seat allowed the chair to fold. Small drive wheels meant the chair could be used at a desk or allow independent transfer into a vehicle. The rods connecting the wheels to the chair flexed independently to remain in contact with the ground even when driven outdoors over uneven surfaces. This chair was made for going places.

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Wheelchair with tray, Manufacturer Everest and Jennings, Concord, Ontario, Canada, ca. 1960-1970. Canada Science and Technology Museum, artifact no. 1991.0225. Used in Hôpital de L’Assomption, Grand Falls, New Brunswick.

A Canadian with post-polio may have brought the first E&J chair, serial no. 105, to Canada from Los Angeles in the 1930s. John Counsel of the Canadian Paraplegic Association bought a chair in 1943 and then lobbied the Canadian government to purchase 200 chairs for veterans. At $163 per chair Veterans Affairs resisted but Counsel won. It was the largest order the company had received but later, the American Veterans Administration placed an even bigger order. The chair was on its way to being the most common wheelchair available.

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Wheelchair Model Premier C12673, Manufacturer Everest and Jennings Company, Don Mills, Ontario, post 1968. Canada Science and Technology Museum, artifact no. 1983.0029.

This chair was donated by an Ottawa family. A name and a room number are marked on the side frame. It is missing the left push rim suggesting the owner lacked function on her left side and there is a restraining strap. It was manufactured in Toronto in an E&J branch plant, established in 1968. Yet despite its late date, its form is essentially unchanged from the 1930s design.