Wheelchair Real Photo Postcards

Real photo postcards document many aspects of history that are relatively absent in other forms of information. Postcard photographers lived in the communities they photographed and had access to the details of everyday life as common people experienced it. Objects that were overlooked by outsiders were part of the images local photographers created.  Wheelchairs are a good example. This form of transportation for people with disabilities and the infirm were ubiquitous in the early 20th century. They came in many forms and could perform many functions. Where would one find pictures of turn of the century wheelchairs and of people using the devices? There were wheelchair catalogues produced by companies that manufactured them, but these were discarded as new technology brought new editions. Those not thrown out deteriorated because they were made of paper stock vulnerable to damp and other adversive environmental conditions.

From 1905 well into the 1920s the favored photographic format was photo postcard stock. It was readily available, inexpensive, practical, and favored by professionals and amateurs alike. Although the early part of the 20th century was a period during which many people with disabilities were sent to institutions, most people who used wheelchairs were out and about, living in communities and at home with their loved ones. Thus they, like their relatives, went  to have their pictures taken in studios. They  posed for professional photographers and their picture-taking friends and relatives in and around their homes and at work and play. Because many photo studios were located on the top floor of buildings (that was where the skylight was) and inaccessible to wheelchair-bound patrons, studio RPPCs are rarer than those taken in natural settings. Photo postcards of people in wheelchairs were part of the family record and were carefully stored in family albums. They tended to be treated with loving care, and that, combined with their durability, helped them survive the years.

Not only do photo postcards document the physical chair, they show people with disabilities engaged in activities with friends and relatives in a variety of locations. They provide a more personal and intimate view of normal life in the community than other forms of representation.

Until the last 20 years, very few people were interested in the history of disability. There were not many, if any, collectors of disability-related ephemera and there were no major collections devoted to disability studies. With the advent of the disability rights movement, people as well as institutions are beginning to assemble collections.

More Images:

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Studio portrait of a man in a wheelchair that is propelled with a hand crank, circa 1908.
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Portrait of family in front of their home with child in wheel chair. Image slightly cropped. Chatsworth, Iowa, circa 1906.
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Woman in wheel chair at home, circa 1909.

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