Engineering for Power – the Kline Chair
The story of the “Kline Chair” is told as a story of Canadian engineering. It is also about the problem of commercializing a chair in the small Canadian market—especially if the decision-maker believes only a few people with quadriplegia need it. Yet the desire to equip wheelchairs with power goes back to the beginnings of the twentieth century. After all, invalids in 1900 wanted the same modern technology as everyone else.
Ida Schmidt's 1903 design, like the horseless carriage of the same period, simply imagined the old form with a new power source. The canopy suggests it was intended to be an outdoor chair.
n 1950, the Canadian Department of Veterans Affairs asked George Klein at the National Research Council to improve the motorized wheelchair for quadriplegic veterans. Klein redesigned an existing wheelchair motor for use on an Everest and Jennings chair. He added a joystick for steering and for moving both forward and back. This made it useful for anyone with limited upper body movement. Klein worked with quadriplegic veterans in DVA hospitals in developing his design.
Klein chose not to patent his innovation so it would be widely available. In 1955 Canada’s Veterans Affairs gave this prototype to the United States Veterans Administration for companies to commercialize. DVA assumed a limited Canadian market, seeing it as a solution for quadriplegia. Yet there was a larger market. In 1959 DVA directed a father asking about a motorized wheelchair for his son with muscular dystrophy to American companies but said the chairs were only for inside institutional use.