Celebrating Al Thieme and five decades of Amigo Mobility
Friendly Wheels, Issue 126
Fifty years ago, Al Thieme was a successful master plumber with a growing young family.
He couldn’t foresee that he was about to create something that would improve the lives of thousands of people around the world.
Yet that’s exactly what he did when he built the first Amigo. A scrap paper sketch, hours of garage tinkering and help from some amazing friends all came together in the form of the Amigo, the first power operated vehicle (POV)/mobility scooter.
Some organizations, such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, embraced the Amigo early on, but it took a lot of work and some time to gain traction in other areas. When things took off, the company was growing—often by 50 percent a year—and by 1980, revenue surpassed $5 million.
Amigo was not without its problems, either. Frequently shifting Medicare rules, an attempted takeover and nearly facing bankruptcy, however, did not deter Al Thieme and the Amigo Company from remaining true to its original mission: Improving Lives Through Mobility®.
Here are just a few stories from people whose lives have been positively impacted by Al Thieme’s invention.
With each passing day, things were getting harder. Picking up the children. Shopping for groceries. Managing the house. Even walking was becoming increasingly exhausting.
An eventual multiple sclerosis diagnosis gave a name to the thing that was slowly taking away her mobility and independence.
A wheelchair wouldn’t do. MS had weakened her limbs making maneuvering a manual wheelchair a difficult task.
With six children and a home to manage, she needed the freedom of mobility. There had to be a better way.
She spent the better part of a trip to Mexico in a cumbersome wheelchair. She noticed people didn’t engage with her or even look at her most of the time. While the vacation itself was a frustrating experience, it served as the impetus for creating the Amigo.
Suddenly she was once again able to work around her home, work, travel, attend her children’s activities and sports—all the things that had slipped away along with her mobility. The Amigo didn’t just help Marie get around, it allowed her to keep living.
After a brief stop in Honolulu, this young journalist was jetting off to Southeast Asia to kick off a year of reporting.
But the course of her life was changed when she experienced a tragic incident in Hawaii. Deprivation of oxygen to the brain caused damage to the parts of her brain that control movement, and she was left immobilized.
A years-long recovery process gave her back some mobility but not enough to allow her to do all the things she’d been able to do before the attack.
It was at a New York-based rehabilitation center where she was introduced to the Amigo.
“It has changed her life,” her father wrote in 1977. After three years of immobility, she had freedom again and was able to return to her work as a reporter.
For decades, he walked on his hands. He didn’t just walk on his hands – he did everything from raising his daughter to driving his motorcycle – with just his hands. A birth defect required his legs be amputated early in his life but he didn’t need help getting around and he was proud to do without a wheelchair.
But as an employee at a manufacturing shop, management thought the way he moved around could prove a dangerous liability.
He didn’t agree, but it was adjust or be fired.
At first, he’d punch into work, hop onto his Amigo and hop off again at the end of the day. He was free to take the Amigo home with him, but he was used to his way of doing things.
Over time he started noticing how tasks that used to take him hours to complete were taking hardly any time at all.
The Amigo allowed Ron, a single father, to keep up with his daughter as she grew. Things that had been difficult, like cooking, sweeping and taking his daughter on field trips, were less so.
Now, his Amigo allows him to travel the country, speaking to thousands of kids a year about embracing each other’s differences.
After having an Amigo for nearly 40 years, he says it’s not just something he uses, it has become a part of him.
Continuing the Mission
Every Amigo user has his or her own unique story, but the thread that ties them all together is a life improved through mobility, a life improved thanks to Al Thieme and his invention.
Though the company has diversified over the years, one step into the Bridgeport, Michigan headquarters—where walls are filled with customer photos and thank you letters are preserved for decades—makes it clear that people, not profits or product launches, have and will always be the focus of Amigo Mobility®.
Has an Amigo changed your life? Share your #AmigoStory with us on Facebook or by email at marketing (at) myamigo (dot) com.