Some Antique Wheelchairs from Sears, Roebuck & Company

Sears Model 14020 Reclining Rolling Chair, 1904
Sears Model 14020 Reclining Rolling Chair, 1904
Sears Model 14032 Wheelchair, 1904
Sears Model 14032 Wheelchair, 1904
Sears Model 14058 Fully Reclining Chair with Individual Leg Rests, 1904
Sears Model 14058 Fully Reclining Chair with Individual Leg Rests, 1904
Sears Model 14058 Fully Reclining Chair with Individual Leg Rests, 1904
Sears Model 14058 Fully Reclining Chair with Individual Leg Rests, 1904
Sears Model 49W14063 Self-Propelling Rolling Chair, 1904
Sears Model 49W14063 Self-Propelling Rolling Chair, 1904
Sears No. 14066 Fixed Rolling Chair, 1905
Sears No. 14066 Fixed Rolling Chair, 1905
Sears Self-Propelling Wheelchair, No. 14074, 1905
Sears Self-Propelling Wheelchair, No. 14074, 1905

Today, wheelchairs are ubiquitous. They can be seen by the dozens at airports, grocery and department stores, hospitals, restaurants, schools, churches and office buildings. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors and styles, and we take them for granted as part of our daily lives.

Did you ever wonder how your elderly or invalid ancestors got a wheelchair? Or how rural people such as farmers found one? Or how country doctors got them, for that matter? It’s hard to imagine what a family must have faced if they had an invalid child, for example, in the days before Medicare, automobiles, telephones, or indoor plumbing.

Happily, Sears, Roebuck & Co. of Chicago, Illinois saw an opportunity in this situation, and in the early 1900s published a catalog entitled “Surgical Instruments and Physicians’ Supplies”. Dr. C.F. Taylor, editor of The Medical World, wrote in a 1904 issue of the magazine “physicians in the vicinity of Chicago all know of the colossal house of Sears Roebuck & Co., but it is probable that many physicians in the East and West and South do not know them. Almost anything that man needs can be bought at Sears Roebuck & Co. We have before us their Catalog of Surgical Instruments and Physicians’ Supplies, and we advise every physician who sees this to send for one”. It will interest you to see with what thoroughness an enterprising firm can do things”

Sears’ most popular wheelchairs were “reclining rolling chairs”, made in several variations and in two sizes to accommodate both children and adults. They were numbered in a series called 49W. For example, No. 49W14020 was an adult model with steel rim wheels and plain bearings, the 49W14021 had ¾” cushion tires on front and rear wheels with plain bearings, etc. The adult models had two 28” wheels and one 10” wheel in the back. The child’s model (14026) had 24” wheels and also a 10” wheel in the rear. All these 49W chairs were made of rubbed and polished oak, “filled with hygienic cane weaving as shown in illustration”, according to the catalog. By turning a thumbscrew and pushing against the back, the occupant could adjust the seat for his own comfort. The footboard was adjustable and foldable. These chairs weighed 100 pounds and 80 pounds, respectively, and were priced from $11.90 to $22.90 depending on whether you wanted the optional ball bearings (14024) or the elliptic springs, which were extra.

Another version of the reclining chair (Model 14032) had two wheels in the back. It stood a little taller (31”) and still had those same 10” back wheels. Its footrest was carpeted and it came with a “stationary push handle” for the convenience of the one doing the pushing. That carpeted foot rest must have been very luxurious, because the price for this one, with a cushion, was a whopping $24.90.

Moving on down the pages of the catalog, we discover that $28.40 would buy the basic chair plus a commode attachment and a removable sliding seat. And finally, the top-of-the-line fully reclining oak and cane chair (14058) with individual leg rests that allowed the occupant to adjust from seated to horizontal with a touch of that thumbscrew. The choices of ½” or 1” cushioned-rubber tires each had their own model number (14059 and 14060). Model 14061 was described as “same, with bicycle ball bearing wheels’.

Sears also made economical fixed rolling chairs during this time, plus two models of self-propelling reclining wheelchairs for those who had no caregiver readily available. They were as follows:

Made especially for those who were paralyzed in the lower limbs, Models 14063 through 14065 had a device that looked like a bicycle chain attached to each wheel, with handles at an appropriate height for self-propelling. Finally, the most luxurious of all was the 49W14073. It was priced at a whopping $31.10, but it came with a shellacked and varnished wicker back and sides, independent adjustable leg rests, elliptic springs, hand rims on the 28” wheels, bicycle ball bearings, 1” cushion tires front and rear, and carpeted footrests.

Three cheers for Sears! With its enterprising and initiative spirit in this area, the lives of many have been enriched.

© 2013 Marie Brannon

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