by DICK BOURGEOIS-DOYLE
Many consider George Klein (MechE 2T8) to be one of Canada’s most prolific inventors of the 20th century.* More than 1,000 novel and useful devices were shaped by his imagination, including the world’s first electric wheelchair.
n many ways, George Klein rivaled Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and other icons in the scope of his inventiveness and impact — certainly in his effect on society. His project areas ranged from aviation, defense systems and nuclear energy to construction safety, communications and space technologies. At the same time, Klein’s work could be overstated if not placed in the context of his fruitful collaborations and the contributions of others. Many remarkable people not only helped 14
Pictured: George Klein (c. 1955) demonstrates the electric wheelchair he designed.
and inspired him, but also applied his inventions to daily practice. Klein’s career and experience is a model for innovation in any field, particularly, health-care engineering. Born in Hamilton, Ont. in 1904, Klein spent his spare time as a child hanging out at his father’s jewellery store and watch factory where the artistic work of gold and silversmiths ran in parallel to the micro-mechanics of the watch makers. He often referred to it as a gymnasium for creativity and the touchstone for many of the ingenious mechanical devices he later designed and built. Not a great student academically, he nevertheless showed talent in the workshop and earned technical school marks strong enough to gain entry to the Univeristy
PHOTO/ COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF CANADA (NRC)
of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. Here, he learned the benefits of collaboration and the skills that would shape his career. For 40 years of that career, Klein worked as a mechanical engineer and designer at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) labs in Ottawa where he came in 1929 to join his former U of T Engineering professor John Hamilton Parkin (MIE). At NRC, Klein collaborated not only with doctorate-level colleagues, but also the tradespeople, machinists and technicians who could rapidly build and tweak his many prototypes. Multidisciplinary collaboration fuelled his innovations in many of the same ways it inspires engineering research today. *Source: Canadian Encyclopedia