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18. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Wheelchair

By Clemency Hinton (@clemencyhinton)

This wooden wheelchair was the often invisible, but invaluable, aid to President Franklin Roosevelt during his years of political prominence. Cobbled together from a standard kitchen chair with bicycle wheels attached, this wheelchair was designed to be discreet, light and mobile. Unlike the bulky and obtrusive counterparts of its time, this wheelchair allowed FDR to somewhat conceal the lower body paralysis he had experienced since the age of 39. It sits today at the Home of FDR, the National Historic Site in Hyde Park, New York.

In a time when accessible facilities were hard to come by, Roosevelt was able to adapt to his physical impairment. FDR could manoeuvre this special wheelchair into the cramped luggage elevator at Hyde Park and use his arm strength to tug at the hand-pulley lift. FDR also commissioned a specially adapted Ford vehicle, in which the traditional foot brakes and clutch were replaced with hand controls, so that he was able to freely drive around the estate.

FDR was very successful at compensating for his paralysis, so much so that many Americans were – and remain – unaware that he lived with a disability.

Image: © Adam Jones. Wikimedia Commons.

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