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The Invention of the Stairlift

The Invention of the Stairlift
The convenience of the stair lift is likely to give it a new reputation: that of stair ‘throne.’ In fact, the history behind the stair lift is a fascinating tale that does have some royal connections. Users of a stair lift can rightfully say that traveling up in one makes them feel like royalty.

Also known as “chair lifts” or “stair gliders,” these handy and innovative installations give families peace of mind, especially in the case of a family member with a long-term disability or elders who simply need assistance. The modern-day stair lift is not just a convenient mobility tool for humans — there are also variations to help obese or aging pets use them (if you can train them)!

If you’ve been considering installing a stairlift in your home, you’ve probably already done some research into stair lift costs, varieties, and features. While these are all important aspects of the stair lift, you’ll also want to take into consideration the evolution of the stair lift to make the best decision.

In this article, we outline the robust (and royal) beginnings that made stair lift history, give you options for a curved staircase, and break down stair lift pros and cons.

Who Invented the Stairlift?

It all began in the 1500s, when King Henry VIII decided that, amongst his other demands, he’d like to have a stair lift installed. He described it as “a chair…that goeth up and down.” According to Dr. David Starkey, a notable historian, the demand was more of a need: the king was not only overweight but had also suffered from a jousting accident that severely limited his mobility.

The first stair lift relied, says Dr. Starkey, on a block and tackle system. However, automatic it was not: it called on servants to use ropes to lift the monarch, seated on the chair lift, up and down the 20-foot staircase at Whitehall Palace.

So who invented the stair lift as we know it today?

The stair lift invention can be attributed to one C.C. Crispen. Nearly 400 years after Henry VIII, the Pennsylvania native and car dealer was struck with the bright idea after seeing a convalescing friend confined to a bed and in deep need of mobility.

Named the “Inclin-ator,” Crispen placed his invention on display in Philadelphia in 1924 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Introduction of the First Commercial Stairlift

The initial success of the stair lift idea by Crispen inspired him to start a company. Soon, the “Inclinator Company of America” was born, creating the first widely-used commercial stair lift. Like Crispen’s initial “test” subject, his ailing friend, the early users of the stairlift invention were those affected by polio. Suddenly, climbing and descending the stairs in a home was no longer an issue for polio sufferers.

Early home stairlifts operated on AC drive motors. An “energy chain” was installed along the rail to carry the power cable from the point of supply to the carriage, which was essentially the seat or “chair” component of the stair lift. These earlier designs were simple but provided exactly what a user needed. It consisted of a folding chair and footrest, which moved with rollers, up and down the track, which was fastened to the stairs.

As the notoriety and usability of the product spread, so too did the interest of other companies. Technological advancements were helping engineers and designers create a better, more automated product, involving more options for sitting.

Stairlifts Today

Though the basic mechanism is foolproof and thus hasn’t changed, the modern day domestic stair lifts are even more comfortable and vary based on use. Domestic stair lifts these days, for example, are powered from rechargeable batteries, sitting in the carriage, and use DC or direct current. This combination allows a stair lift to continue to work, even during a power outage.

DC-powered stair lifts have a charge-point where they can be stationed to recharge. However, further innovations to the straight stair lift have introduced models that charge continuously along the track.

There are a variety of stair lift types and uses, including:

Straight stairlifts: These are the most common stairlift and, as the name suggests, they are intended for stairs with straight banisters. These are the least expensive kind of domestic stair lift.

Curved stairlifts: The curved stair lift relies on a curved rail that must be custom-made. The seat or carriage also has to be custom-made to accommodate the curvature and changes in level without making the individual seated motion-sick.

Must-Have Stairlift Features

Modern-day stairlifts have clearly improved on the original by including a variety of stairlift features that accommodate everyday needs.

Travel Speed – For safety’s sake, stairlifts should include only one speed. However, the speed of a curved rail track may slow down on inclines and bends.

Custom fittings – Circular staircases require a custom-made track that requires a custom installation. Even if you have a straight staircase, you may end up having a curved rail track because of multiple intermediate flat landings. This means that the staircase length will have to be measured and the track created to custom specs. Sometimes, manufacturers of a curved rail staircase will offer installation of modular parts.

Battery Backup – For DC-powered stairlifts, there is a backup battery that allows the stairlift to continue running, even in the event of a power failure or outage.

Controls – Stairlifts like the Easy Climber come with two standard remote-based controls. The remote control activates the carriage to return up or down, based on where you are.

The remote control feature of the Easy Climber also allows the user to send the carriage up the stairs, out of sight. Once the user is finished using the seat, it folds up into a tight space.

Keep in mind that curved rail stairlifts have more complex controls than those with straight rails. For example, the seat of a curved rail stairlift may have to be tilted. This would require an additional motor-and-link system. To keep the speed steady, even during downward dips, the curved rail calls for a more complex system that may rely on small microprocessors that “learn” the journey and store it in the system’s memory as data.

Swivel Seat – To keep the rider’s safety and comfort in mind, the Easy Climber stair lift has been designed with a swivel seat. This allows the rider to firmly plant both feet on the floor, rather than other stair lifts that drop the rider on the top or bottom step, leaving them vulnerable to a slip and fall.

While the original mechanism is simple, today’s stairlifts and stairlift features are smartly designed to make the journey a comfortable one. Easy Climber provides a safe, modern and sleek solution for households requiring a better way to get around.

Learn more about how Easy Climber is improving mobility in homes and creating a better quality of life for its users.