George Klein, Inventor of the Electric Wheelchair

Published: 11th April 2009
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George Johann Klein is considered to be the most productive Canadian inventor of the 20th century. His inventions include the ZEEP nuclear reactor, the Canadarm, the Weasel all terrain vehicle, and the microsurgical staple gun. While he was with the National Research Council of Canada in the 1950s, he came up with the electric wheelchair for the use of injured veterans from the Second World War.

The first successfully working electric wheelchair is now on display at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. It was given to the government of the United States in 1955 to demonstrate Canada's commitment to helping not only its own injured veterans but the disabled individuals all over the world as well. During the official launch of Dr. Klein's biography in Ottawa in 2005, the chair was repatriated.

The electric wheelchair, dubbed as Canada's Great Invention, was developed because of the influx of Second World War veterans who had been disabled by injuries sustained in battle. In order to help these veterans attain a semblance of normal life, the National Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Paraplegic Association, and Canada's Department of Veteran Affairs collaborated to come up with a functional electric motor propelled wheelchair.

Prior to the arrival of the electric wheelchair, a significant number of paraplegics was helped by the mass purchase of manual wheelchairs, which came about after Canadian Paraplegic Association John Counsel successfully lobbied the Government of Canada. In response to a need for devices by which quadriplegics could also move around independently, the concept of the electric wheelchair was originated by Dr. Klein, with the help of other scientists, engineers, medical practitioners, and patients.
Dr. Klein, who was born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada on August 15, 1904, was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1968. He died at the age of 88 years on November 4, 1992 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. In 1995, he was inducted to the Canadian Science and Technology Museum Hall of Fame for his work on the electric wheelchair and his other noteworthy inventions.

In addition to the legacy of his other inventions, the memory of Dr. Klein is perpetuated in the minds of the people benefited by the mobility and independence that the electric wheelchair makes possible. Rear, centre, front wheel and four wheel drive variants of the chair is now available, as are customized versions that have been adapted to the different needs of patients.
Models that have been designed for use indoors or outdoors, or both, can be obtained. There are also portable chairs as well as full featured "rehab" chairs. Chargers for the chairs can be on-board or separate units. Quadriplegics and invalids who can not self-propel a manual wheelchair due to certain disabilities were those for which the electric wheelchair was originally meant, but it is now also prescribed for patients with cardiovascular disorders.

Built in functional movements, like tilt, recline, leg elevation, and seat elevation, among others, enable the occupant of an electric wheelchair perform certain motions and activities that otherwise would not have been possible. A joystick, or some other kind of mechanism, such as a puff/sip scanner or a chin control device, regulates these functional movements as well as the chair's speed and direction.

The Author is an expert on the facts that relate to the electric wheelchair. Find out more about it at her website about wheelchairs.

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