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The Weird History of the Stairlift

Gremlins, Henry VIII and Obese Dogs: 7 Interesting Facts About Stairlifts

Q. Which famous historical figure used an early version of the stairlift?

Q. What iconic ’80s monster movie had a stairlift scene?

Q. How did a stairlift manage to offend fans of a travel website?

Stairlifts are practical, they can even be life-changing, but they’re not exactly “fun.”

Still, they’ve had their moments in the spotlight over the years. Here are a few things you might not know about them.

history of the stairlift

The “Stairthrone”

By most accounts, the first stairlift was used by Henry VIII of England in the mid 1500s. It was really more of a “stairthrone,” used to get the overweight king up and down the steps of Whitehall Palace in London.

For much of his life, Henry was quite athletic. But when he was 44, he suffered a serious leg injury while jousting. His health began to decline, while his weight increased. By the time Henry was in his 50s, he had a 52 inch waist (according to records of his armor).

That’s where the stairthrone – described in royal records as “a chair…that goeth up and down” – comes into play. British documentarian David Starkey found evidence of the chair when researching Henry VIII. He says servants would have used a block and tackle system to lift the king up and down.

The Modern Stairlift

history of the stairliftIt wasn’t until nearly 400 years later that the first modern stair lift was introduced, when a Pennsylvania car dealer named C.C. Crispen built one after seeing a convalescing neighbor confined to an upstairs bed.

In 1924, Crispen put his “Inclin-ator” on display in Philadelphia. The Inclinator Company of America introduced the first widely-used stair lift soon after.

Other companies went on to engineer innovations to the product, such as the curved rail stair chair.

Stairlifts in Popular Culture

Five centuries after Henry, stairlifts had become commonplace enough to appear on TV and in movies, often in comedic settings.

In the 1984 horror/comedy Gremlins, the title characters dispatch Mrs. Deagle — the film’s Scrooge-like villain — by tampering with her stair chair, which flies up her staircase and out the window.

During the final season of Seinfeld, the episode “The Butter Shave” featured a plotline involving George Costanza faking a disability at work. Among his “perks” is using the stair chair at the office.

The travel website Kayak featured a stairlift last year in an ad that caused the company some trouble.  It features a man who’s so bogged down in searching inferior travel websites that he has no time to do anything else, including using the stairs, so he’s taken over the use of his elderly mother’s stair lift.

history of the stairlift
A scene from Kayak.com’s controversial commercial

The commercial shows the mother struggling to climb the stairs as the man’s wife suggests he just use Kayak. The website ended up getting a number of complaints from people who said it depicted elder abuse. Such complaints apparently led Kayak to pull the ad in Canada.

Stairlifts got a somewhat more dignified reception earlier this year on AMC’s Better Call Saul.  In the episode “Alpine Shepherd Boy,” main character James McGill meets with an elderly client who uses a stair chair. The show uses the scene to illustrate McGill’s attempts to get into the field of elder law. Her stairlift is simply a fact of life.

Stairlifts for Animals

When we picture stairlifts, we usually picture a person who’s older or disabled using them to navigate their home.

history of the stairlift
Stair of the Dog 2022, perfect for the pudgy pooch

But what about stair lift installations for pets?

In 2012, the British pet insurance company More Than unveiled the prototype for “Stair of the Dog 2022,” a stair lift designed to publicize the need for medical care for obese pets.

Although retailers expressed interest in selling the product, More Than created the Stair of the Dog as a warning to pet owners whose canines were entering Henry VIII territory.

In a news release on its website, More Than said such lifts “could become common in British homes unless we change our approach to our dogs’ diets.”

But for people, a chairlift might be the only option. If you think you or a loved one could benefit from one, contact PA Stairlifts today. We can help you figure out which options are right for you and your home.

You may not need a stairthrone, but you’ll still get treated like royalty.

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