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The History Of The Zimmer (or Walking) Frame

Posted by Francis Whitehead on June 29, 2020

A classroom, with text reading "History of the Zimmer Frame" on the blackboard. A Zimmer frame and a globe sit underneath

The Zimmer frame. An iconic staple of walking aids, with its familiar stainless steel frame offering support and stability to generations of people who need an extra hand (or 4 legs!) with their mobility.

All Clued Up

People tend to think of a Zimmer, or walking frame, as something often seen in care homes and in hospitals. They are frequently used in news items on TV to depict an elderly person who may be unsteady on their feet and need a little extra support.

However, walking frames are used by many different people, including children. They are particularly useful when recovering from an operation and walking has become slightly more difficult, as the muscles in the body start to heal.

Walking frames come in many different varieties. There are walking frames with 4 stationary legs (often called Zimmer frames), Tri Walkers (often called three-wheeled walkers) and Rollators (or, four-wheeled walkers).

Back to the Zimmer

The Zimmer frame in particular has been around for a long time. The Burrell Collection in Glasgow, a museum which houses over 8,000 fascinating artefacts and objects from Sir Willian Burrell and his wife Lady Constance since 1944, is home to an embroidered priest's vestment. Believe it or not, this ceremonial robe shows a figure learning to walk with a three-wheeled walking frame, which would be in today's terminology, a Tri Walker!

Which brings us to renowned painter Hieronymus Bosch (no, he wasn’t inventing any kettles or toasters on the side!).

Around 1501, he painted a piece called – Triptych of the Temptation of St. Anthony. Amongst the epic scenery, there is an illustration of a man walking, enclosed within a frame with four wheels (today we would call this a Rollator!).

If you want to see it for yourself, the painting currently hangs in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon, Portugal. Or if you want to save yourself the misery of an airport delay, a quick Google search will prove it all to the eagle-eyed observer.

Even more so, walking frames go back even further, with the oldest known representation of one being a 1st or 2nd century Egyptian terracotta figurine, currently on display at the British Museum in London. This brings a whole new meaning to Walk Like an Egyptian!

But the iconic walking frame, as we all know and love today, was invented in the UK by William Cribbes Robb of Stretford in the late 1940s. The frame design used to help people to walk was taken and improved on by an American company called Zimmer Holdings, based in Indiana, USA, where it gets its namesake from.

This company had been making walking frames and orthopaedic products for several years. Zimmer Holdings was originally founded to produce aluminium splints, so the progression to walking frames was natural.

Zimmer Holdings took William Cribbes Robb’s design and fitted two small wheels to the two front legs, making it easier for many people to use. When walking frames are equipped with two front wheels, they are known as wheeled-walkers rather than Zimmer frames.

There have been two other patents for walking frames, both by American inventors – a non-wheeled frame by Elmer F Ries in 1965 and a wheeled frame by Alfred A Smith in 1970.


The Zimmer Frame Today

Over the years, the word “Zimmer” has become interchangeable with the word “walking” however, “Zimmer frame” is one of the most searched products in Google in 2020. Similar to how all vacuum cleaners are known as Hoovers, or all games consoles are referred to as Nintendo’s!

This humble walking frame provides a handy solution to independent living for many people of all ages. Some care homes in the UK have tried to liven up the standard grey frames by running “Pimp Your Walking Frame” competitions! If you want headlights, tailfins, and a horn that plays La Cucuracha, you got it.
However, if you’re not looking to fit a V8 engine anytime soon, you can accessorise your walking frame with some handy features we have here!


Buckingham Caddy

Buckingham Caddy

The Buckingham Caddy is a handy method of storage that simply attaches to front of your walking frame. With one large and one small compartment, you can keep items separate if needed and it also comes supplied with a tray that is designed to safely transport a plate of food and a mug. Talk about meals on wheels!

Glide Skis

Glide Ski's

These durable Glide Skis replace the rubber ferrules that come standard on your walking frame, and move without drag or friction, helping to reduce wear and tear on floor surfaces such as carpets. No more crinkles in the rug!

Zimmer Frame Single Sided Bag

Zimmer Frame Single Sided Bag

This single sided bag upgrades your walker by allowing you to carry items round the house with ease, all the while keeping your hands free. The bag is securely held in place with a Velcro attachment that hangs from the walker's crossbar, making it quick and easy to fit and remove if needed. Keep your copy of the Sunday paper with you wherever you go!

Get in Touch

And that’s the history of the humble Zimmer Frame! If you have any questions or enquiries about any of the products on our website, please do get in touch. We will be more than happy to help!