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Strollers (Public Radio Commentary)

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(For radio stations: Bill's public radio work can be licensed via PRX).

What do Jackie Onassis, WoodyAllen, Mel Gibson, Uma Thurman, Ethane Hawke, Caterine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas all have in common? They have used the most advanced stroller in the world the Maclaren.

The modern stroller began in the early 1960 when a retiree picked up his daughter and new granddaughter at a British airport. To help them through the airport he had to struggle with a heavy, bulky stroller. This battle marked the end of old-fashioned strollers. Strollers of the world had no idea what they'd come up against with this retiree, Mr. Owen Finlay Maclaren.

Maclaren, a retired aeronautical engineer, had worked on the Spitfire, the first all-metal fighter plane built for the Royal Air Force. Maclaren had helped design the Spitfire's undercarriage, or landing gear. He knew the essentials of successful landing gear: It must be very strong, yet also lightweight - and, of course, it must fold up into the plane. This gave Maclaren all the knowledge he needed to improve the plight of mothers and fathers around the world.

Maclaren used his knowledge of lightweight load-bearing airplane structures, to make a durable, lightweight stroller. In 1965 he used some aluminum tubing, a piece of canvas and lightweight wheels to build a prototype. His stroller weighed less than six pounds, and collapsed with a flick of the wrist. The key to Maclaren's stroller was the X-shaped mechanism underneath and at the back: these two x-shaped hinges let it get narrower as well as flatter when folded. Older, heavy strollers folded flat, but since his folded up tall and thin it was much easier for a parent to carry or store.

He filed for a patent in July of 1965, and his first stroller went on sale in 1967. That year he made 1000 in a stable converted to manufacture the strollers. Within nine years production was over 600,000 a year, and today about ten million have been sold.

But don't think this stroller is only a relic of a World War II prop plane. Maclaren kept his eyes on the new jets of the age in designing his stroller. I want you to examine the wheels on a stroller. In his first prototypes Maclaren had used a single wheel on each axle, but found he could steer straighter if he used double wheels, and the ride improved if he put a tiny suspension spring between each pair of wheels. If you would like to see the inspiration for this, the next time you're at an airport, examine the landing gear of a jet - you'll find it nearly identical.

Copyright 2003 William S. Hammack Enterprises