Mobility scooters have had a rather unique, and in some cases fraught history, as whilst the wheelchair has remained relatively constant in design outside of the change in power source, the powered scooters have changed in several fundamental ways since their initial invention.
It also took a surprisingly long time for the device to receive the credit and acceptance it deserved as a way to enable more independent living for people with reduced mobility.
It is also a surprisingly old invention.
The First Commercial Attempts
All self-powered mobility vehicles can be traced back to Stephan Farffler’s tricycle carriage in 1680, but the first genuine attempt at an electric mobility scooter arrived nearly 300 years later.
Sears, a department store chain based in the United States, were the first to attempt to create an electric scooter in 1954. It was described as an electric wheelchair, but its long, three-wheeled design, bulky battery and bucket seat makes it less useful as a wheelchair but effective as a scooter.
It did not sell especially well, but the concept behind it did eventually pay dividends when a Michigan plumber wanted to give a family member some of his independence back.
Allan R Thieme was frustrated with the lack of options when it came to mobility equipment to help a member of his family who was struggling with multiple sclerosis and was starting to lose their mobility.
Believing there was a better way, he took to his garage and created a small, yellow mobility scooter known as the Amigo. It was very small, very lightweight and used a tiller steering system and a swinging bucket seat that helped make it easy to access.
Allegedly, he used a vacuum cleaner motor to provide the drive and was designed to ensure his family member could not only move around outside but also inside.
It would take a whole decade for the idea of the scooter to travel across the Atlantic with the help of Ray Hodgkinson and Martin Corby’s company Raymar.
They initially found out about the Amigo and were keen to bring it to the market, but at the time had to negotiate with a mobility market that used standardised, bulky wheelchairs as the primary form of accessible vehicle, largely unchanged for many years.
They took a chance with the concept anyway and it paid off considerably, with the Amigo being the first mobility scooter sold in the UK and one of the most popular accessibility devices on the market for a few years.
There were a few reasons for this, the biggest of which being that the mobility scooter was a very different machine with a different purpose to other accessible transportation at the time.
Raymar took advantage of this by focusing on freedom in its advertising, emphasising that the machine allows people who would otherwise have been housebound to have much more freedom in where they go.
They can visit the shops themselves, go to restaurants, visit attractions and even go on holiday whenever they choose.
As well as this, mobility scooters were designed to help a wide range of people with far-reaching conditions and mobility levels.