Ralph Braun, founder/CEO of The Braun Corp., died Feb. 8 at the age of 72, the company announced in a news release.
Diagnosed as a child with spinal muscular atrophy and no longer able to walk by his mid teens, Braun channeled his personal need for mobility equipment into his first invention: a powered scooter that he named the Tri-Wheeler. The Tri-Wheeler’s success and subsequent manufacture resulted in Braun’s creation of a company called Save-A-Step Mfg.
But ultimately, Braun made his biggest mobility mark on the adaptive automotive industry segment. According to a company biography, Braun added hand controls and a hydraulic lift to an old postal-service Jeep so he could drive back and forth to work. When Dodge launched its first full-sized, front-engine van, Braun figured out how to install a wheelchair lift inside it.
The Braun Corp. was incorporated in 1972, and the company originally known for its wheelchair lifts expanded to manufacture wheelchair-accessible van conversions. Today, the company works with Chrysler, Dodge, Honda and Toyota vehicles.
The Braun Corp., which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2012, remains headquartered in Ralph Braun’s hometown of Winamac, Ind., and has nearly 850 employees.
Ralph Braun, winner of many awards for his work in the mobility industry, was honored as a Champion of Change in 2012 by the White House. He was inducted into the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) Hall of Fame in 2012, and a week before his death was presented with the Employee Support of the Guard and Reserves Patriot Award for “his dedicated support and flexibility offered to employees serving in the military,” according to a Braun Corp. announcement.
In 2010, Ralph Braun published his autobiography, Rise Above. While the book is available through retailers, The Braun Corp. has also distributed free copies at events it attends.