The Commodore Stair Climbing Wheelchair

Commodore?  They were a typewriter company who moved into making computers, right?

So many people know Commodore as the company who made the C64. Some of the more hardcore enthusiasts know about the typewriter beginnings and calculators. The really crazy collectors know about thermostats and filing cabinets. Tonight my focus will be the stair climbing wheelchair that Commodore built in the early 1960s.

How Commodore Business Machines (Canada) Limited almost entered the personal mobility market.

The President's Committee on Employment of the Physically Handicapped

The President’s Committee on Employment of the Physically Handicapped

This post has its beginnings way back in 1947 (before Commodore existed) when United States President Harry S. Truman informally began what became “The President’s committee on employment of the physically handicapped”. Initially funded by the Bureau of Employment Security it received formal US congressional authorization in 1949.

In 1961 or 1962, The President’s committee offered a

Philadelphia Inquirer July 15, 1962

Philadelphia Inquirer July 15, 1962

$5,000 prize for any inventor, foreign or domestic, who could create a working wheelchair that could climb stairs. Two Canadian engineers from Hale & Associates, Ltd named Neville E. Hale and Kenneth Gardner saw an article about the reward being offered in August of 1962 and took on the challenge. It came to pass that a gentleman named Walter Kuettner who was the president of Belpree Company Limited in Canada became interested in their project. You’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with Commodore.


Commodore’s headquarters at 946 Warden Ave, Scarborough, Ontario

By 1962, Commodore was already in the business of marketing and distributing metal office furniture and felt they could see increased profits if they owned the manufacturing side also. Commodore purchased Belpree Company Limited, a metal stamping company, on June 14, 1962 (along with Associated Tool & Manufacturing Company, Ltd and Shelburne Tool Company, Ltd) for $300,000 and moved Belpree into a 30,000 square foot addition to Commodore’s 946 Warden Ave location in Scarborough, Ontario to begin manufacturing their own metal office furniture.

Thus was made the connection between the inventors of the stair climbing wheelchair and the two subsidiaries of Commodore Business Machines (Canada) Ltd: Belpree Company Limited and Associated Tool and Manufacturing.
The prototype wheelchair was built in a joint effort by Belpree Company and Associated Tool & Manufacturing at a cost of $40,000 (adjusted for inflation this is about $335,000 today) and was initially demonstrated at the Canadian Trade Fair in Philadelphia in November, 1963. Out of more than 1000 entries vying for the $5,000 in prize money from the President’s committee, the Hale design won the award in August, 1964.
US Patent 3,276,531

US Patent 3,276,531. Courtesy Google patents

It’s unknown to me how close Commodore ever got to taking this product to market but it’s a safe bet that the collapse of Commodore’s primary source of financing, Atlantic Acceptance Corporation, in June 1965 would have put an end to the project regardless. Hale and Gardner applied for a US patent on the device on March 12, 1965 which was granted on October 4, 1966 as US3276531A.

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