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Duncan Fitzsimons and his foldable wheelchair

Hear about this great British mind below!

Making life better is an approach favoured by many creative people and nowhere would you have seen more examples in Victorian times than at the Great Exhibition of 1851 where the very latest inventions were on display.

Now, as well as special swimming gloves designed by a Mr Clayton of London – they were webbed like ducks’ feet to help when swimming, the Great Exhibition featured one very important facility for the VERY first time ever…

The Exhibition provided individual cubicles with flushing toilets for members of the public. Before 1851, flushing public toilets for men were not available and public toilets for women, well they didn’t exist at all!

Large crowds of both men and women were expected at the Exhibition – in fact, Prince Albert wanted as many people as possible to attend – and not rush home in a hurry. He therefore instructed George Jennings, a plumber from Brighton, to install the first paid-for flushing public toilet within the Crystal Palace. But like many inventors, Jennings didn’t want to just solve a problem – he wanted to make the experience much better too! So visitors may have to spend a penny, but for that they’d not only get the luxury of a clean toilet seat, but they’d get a towel, a comb and a shoe shine too!

It was the start of the phrase ‘spend a penny’ – although records show that during the Great Exhibition, over 675,000 pennies were spent.

Duncan Fitzsimons was a student at the Royal College of Art in London.

He’d seen a challenge that wheelchair users faced – with bulky wheels, a lot of space is needed to store their chairs when travelling or when they are at home. He came up with a design called the Morph Folding Wheel – a folding wheelchair wheel that collapses down to nearly half its size.

Fitzsimons saw a way for a large circle to fold down into a smaller shape, and he tested the ideas with patterns – using everything from folding cardboard to chopping up bicycle wheels.

He designed collapsible spokes and a segmented rim that locks in place by a quick-release axle inserted through the hub.

And here’s the thing, it not only solved a problem but his design makes wheelchairs much more agile too – and we all want to get where we’re going faster these days!

MOBILE: Sir Sidney McSprocket's Amazing Inventions

Discover the incredible stories behind some world famous inventions in this podcast.

Sidney McSprocket’s How’s it Made, with support from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition 1851.

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Fun Kids Learn

Discover something amazing! See what you can find...

More From Fun Kids Learn