Canada Science and Technology Museum

Canada Science and Technology Museum

June 14, 2005 15:32 ET

Canada's 'Great Invention' Comes Home: Prototype Electric Wheelchair Returns to Canada for Special 50th Anniversary Exhibition

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - June 14, 2005) - The Canada Science and Technology Museum (CSTM) today announced that it has received on loan the prototype motorized wheelchair from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

The wheelchair, which was given to the Government of the United States 50 years ago this year, remains one of the most significant artifacts in the history of Canadian science, engineering, and invention. It will be unveiled and placed on exhibit for public viewing in the Museum's Innovation Canada exhibit on September 30, 2005.

Now widely regarded as the world's first practical electric wheelchair for quadriplegic patients, the chair and its innovative technologies were produced at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) in Ottawa in collaboration with Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Paraplegic Association for use by disabled veterans of WW II. The chair attracted international attention with its innovative controls, ease of operation, flexible drive system, and dependability. The Government of Canada eventually shared the invention freely with other countries and organizations including the U.S. Veterans Administration (USVA). The USVA accepted the prototype wheelchair at a formal ceremony in Ottawa on October 26, 1955, but the technologies were later transferred to private industry for production. The prototype wheelchair has been in the possession of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History since 1979.

"This announcement is very exciting because of its potential to remind Canadians of their inherent inventiveness and capacity to work together for the benefit of people around the world," said
Dr. Pierre Coulombe, NRC President. "I hope young people across Canada take time to learn of the inspiring story behind the invention of the motorized wheelchair and think of how they too might improve the lives of others through science and technology."

Remarkable example of an innovative spirit

The historic wheelchair recently arrived back in Ottawa. It was the brainchild and product of George J. Klein, one of Canada's most remarkable engineers. On first seeing it used by disabled veterans, Klein was emotionally moved by the impact that he observed in veterans' ability to achieve new independence and in their resulting brighter outlook on life. Since then, countless people in Canada and around the world have benefitted by having access to wheelchairs that incorporate Klein's innovations. "The upcoming 60th anniversary of the Canadian Paraplegic Association is an appropriate time to announce the return of the motorized wheelchair," says Randall Brooks, a curator at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. Within the Innovation Canada exhibit at the Museum, the wheelchair will add to the artifacts recognizing the inventions and innovations by and for disabled people. The wheelchair will also join other artifacts designed by or in large part by this remarkable engineer - medical suturing devices and Canadarm gearing systems.

The Canada Science and Technology Museum Corporation is responsible for the management of the Canada Science and Technology Museum and for its affiliates, the Canada Agriculture Museum and the Canada Aviation Museum. One of the Corporation's objectives is to discover and share knowledge about Canada's scientific and technological heritage in order to increase understanding and appreciation of the role that science and technology has played, and continues to play, in the transformation of Canada.

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