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August 7, 2023

The Three-Wheeled Custer Chair Car From the 1920s

Levitt Luzern Custer had always been interested in how things worked. Born in Dayton, he graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1913. Custer’s first invention was the Custer Bubble Statoscope, which registered the rise and fall of aircraft. By 1916, the Statoscope had proven so popular that Luzern had a four-story brick building constructed on Franklin Street and the Custer Specialty Company was born.

Then came World War I. By the time it ended, over 4,000 amputations had been performed on U.S. soldiers, many of whom came to the Dayton Soldiers’ Home (now called the V.A. Medical Center) for rehabilitation. This prompted the invention of the Custer Invalid Chair, a three-wheel motor vehicle that ran on batteries. Designed to be used by invalids as a sort of self-propelled wheelchair, it would travel 10 to 15 miles before it needed recharging. Custer was granted design patent #D53,891 for his electric motorized wheelchair on October 7, 1919.

Unfortunately, while Custer’s invention allowed the veterans to travel into town, since the Soldiers’ Home was on a hill, many times the chair would run out of power on its way back. This led Custer to invent a gasoline version of his invalid car. Custer’s gasoline-powered wheelchair was granted patent #2,306,042 on December 22, 1942.


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