Shaker Museum


Wheelchair made from a modified rocking chair, Watervliet, NY, ca. 1830

Object ID

Modified Watervliet, NY armed rocking chair. The rocking chair has turned birch posts and turned maple stretchers. The four back slats are steam-bent beech. The rocker blades and scrolled arms are beech as well. The seat is ash splint. To convert chair to a wheelchair, an iron axle is attached to the undersides of the top side stretchers with specially forged iron bolts inserted through holes in the stretchers from below and held by nuts above. Wheels 21" in diameter are attached to the axle ends. The wheels have oak felloes (steam bent), copper sheet metal fittings holding the felloe ends together attached with brass, and flat head wood screws. The outside surface of the felloes are grooved to accept some sort of tires, now lost. Each wheel has eight nicely turned spokes and a turned hub, all of maple. For height adjustment and steering, a 4 3/4" diameter chestnut wheel with an iron yoke and swivel is attached to a block of walnut which, in turn, is bolted to a slotted chestnut plate. The bolt and wing nut are of iron. The chestnut plate is attached to the back stretcher and to the back seat rail with flat head, steel wood screws. The top front stretcher has a 1/2" W x 1/4" D notch cut in the front, about 4" in from either side post, probably for safety straps to hold invalid in chair. Chair painted mustard; wheels painted red but only remnants of the red in pores are now visible.


The Shakers ingeniously converted an armed rocking chair into this wheelchair by securing an iron axle to the upper side stretchers. A pivoting rear wheel attached to the rear stretcher and seat rail stabilized the chair. The block holding the rear wheel adjusts vertically to allow different angles of tilt to the chair. The wheels have single grooves running along the outside rims, implying that the wheels were designed to hold rubber tires. The chair seat is shallow and the back is tall and narrow. Slots at the bottoms of the posts secure the rocker blades, and the posts extend almost to the bottom of the blades. On the rear posts, the scribe marks positioning the placement of the slats are particularly distinct. See blog post on this chair:



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Shaker Museum Wheelchair. Accessed on July 2, 2022

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