The wheel, which is widely considered to be the most important mechanical invention in the annals of human history, has a long and interesting history. Wheeled mechanisms have been contributing to an increase in the human race’s overall quality of life over the past 5,500 years. Wheels are essential to the operation of virtually every machine imaginable, from windmills to jet aircraft.
Potters in ancient Mesopotamia may have been the first to employ wheels to mould clay for their works, as evidenced by drawings found on clay tablets dating back to approximately 3500 BCE. When the Mesopotamians first started building chariots around 3200 BCE, it took another 300 years for wheels to become universally acknowledged as a convenient aid to movement. Chariots were the earliest kind of transportation to use wheels. Even after overcoming this mental obstacle, progress on our most important item was excruciatingly slow. It took the ancient Egyptians another 1600 years to construct chariot wheels with spokes after they had first invented them.
Even if, to our modern ears, the concept of a wheel may appear to be simple, there must have been some sort of intellectual challenge behind it. None of the highly developed civilizations of Maya, Aztec, or Incan ever adopted the use of the wheel in their daily life. In fact, no one in the Americas had ever seen a wheel prior to the arrival of Europeans, who carried them over.
It wasn’t until the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century that Europe saw a significant acceleration in the development of wheels.
Early Spinning Wheel
The Song Dynasty in China is home to some of the earliest instances of spinning wheels that have been discovered (960–1279 CE). The movement was generated by these humongous, rimless wheels, which were turned by a belt and a spindle that was set horizontally. The far less substantial spindle rotated quite a few times in conjunction with each round of the wheel.
Before the invention of wheels, people would move loads by dragging them along the ground. Wheels made this much easier. The weight of the load, in combination with the “slide friction” of the ground, made this a very challenging task. Even while there may have been a technological advance that involved pulling the cargo over log rollers to reduce friction before the invention of wheels, wheeled vehicles are significantly more effective.
How wheels work
When compared to more traditional methods such as dragging or pushing, there are three ways in which the use of wheels makes the transportation of items over land more easier.
In the first place, they have a markedly obliterating effect on resistance. Even if the very small portion of the wheel that is in contact with the ground maintains its position while the remainder of the wheel rolls forward or backward, the structure continues to move in the same direction as the wheel.
Second, wheels make it possible to switch between a pulling or pushing motion with very little effort required.
And finally, because wheels raise the load, the angle at which the force that is required to transfer the burden is reduced, which means that less effort is required to move the load. For example, when one is attempting to manoeuvre a loaded wheelbarrow, all three are brought to the forefront.
Importance of the wheel
The invention of the wheel had a significant influence on the progression of human civilisation once it was first used. In addition to the wheel used for turning clay into pottery, the wheel used to spin yarn was another important invention that contributed significantly to the advancement of civilization.
The wheels on chariots that armies used to crush their enemies spring to mind, as do the wheels on tractors that made it possible for the Green Revolution to take place. The wheel has undergone a substantial transformation in the form of the cogwheel. Since the earliest primitive gears were created from wooden wheels with pegs driven into the rims, cogs have played an essential part in the development of transportation and timekeeping. This has been the case for more than 3,000 years.
Wheels are essential to the operation of many of the modern conveniences that we have come to rely on in our day-to-day lives. Without wheels, many of these conveniences simply could not exist. Nothing as conventional as an internal combustion, diesel, or jet engine, a disc drive, or even an electric toothbrush would work without some kind of wheeling mechanism on the inside.
No Post-Wheel Period
Because the wheel is so essential to human existence, it is quite doubtful that there will ever be a time when people no longer make use of wheels in their daily lives.
To put it another way, wheels have a superior performance on smooth, level ground. Chariots were the catalyst that led to the development of the first crude roadways. Even in modern times, significant sums of money are put into the investigation and development of new and superior road surfaces.
Wheels are the primary component of turbines, which are responsible for the generation of the great majority of the world’s power. This electricity can be generated by the movement of wind, water, or steam through the turbines.
Spreading The Load
When hauling a large load, wheels with a narrow tread pattern sink into the soft ground. The wide wheels of tractors are intended to distribute the weight of cargo more evenly, in contrast to the caterpillar tracks that are mounted on top of the wide wheels of tanks and other heavy armoured vehicles.
3500-3200 BCE Someone in ancient Mesopotamia flips a potter’s wheel on its side, turning its customary orientation on its head by ninety degrees. Combining two solid wheels into one and attaching them to an axle resulted in the invention of the first wheel used for transportation.
3000 BCE Hard rims are often added to wheels in order to make them last longer. These hard rims, which typically consist of metal strips or nails, do not improve the ride quality in any way, but they do lengthen the life of the wheels.
2600 BCE Solid wheels, which are heavier and bulkier, are being replaced by plank wheels (right), which are lighter and more manoeuvrable.
The times of the ancient Greeks and Romans, roughly 2000 B.C.E. to A.D. It is unclear if the appearance of the crossbar wheel (right) constitutes a prelude to the first spoked wheel or an independent development. It is possible that both scenarios occurred simultaneously. Italy is the location of the oldest one that has been found so far.
C.1600 BCE Egyptian chariots are the vehicles that are credited as being the first to use spoked wheels. It would indicate that Europe, perhaps 200 years after the United States, had independently constructed these wheels at the same time.
800-600 BCE The ancient Celts are credited with the development of the pivoting front axle based on the discovery of the relics of vehicles that were buried in Celtic graves. When compared to normal fixed axles, these axles result in a significant improvement in the manoeuvrability of the vehicle.
In the 1820s of the common period, John Loudon Macadam and Thomas Telford built the first macadamized roads by compacting broken stone aggregate. These roadways were named after John Loudon Macadam.
In the 1820s, an innovation known as the metal-hubbed artillery wheel was developed. It is depicted on the right.
Its initial purpose was to convey large steam vehicles without damaging the spokes, but it found extensive use in artillery very early after its introduction.
Robert William Thomson receives a patent for the pneumatic tyre in the year 1846. This tyre is just an inflated hollow belt made of India rubber. John Boyd Dunlop comes up with a new version of it in the year 1888.
1870 In the 1850s, fine metal wheels with wire spokes were invented by George Cayley. This was made feasible by improvements in the metalworking industry of the time. It is now possible to manufacture bicycles that are not only light but also quick.
Edgar Purnell Hooley received a patent for tarmac in 1901. Tarmac is a mixture of aggregate and tar that, once spread out and rolled, produces a road surface that is more durable than aggregate on its own.
1967 The usage of alloy wheels in racing cars was what initially led to their development. They are lighter in general, making them easier to manoeuvre, and they allow for higher speeds than typical steel wheels. Because they conduct heat more effectively, they make it easier for the brakes to dissipate the heat that has built up inside of them.
2005 For the sake of testing, Michelin develops TheTweel, a polyurethane hybrid that combines wheels and tyres. Traditional automobile tyres have hard sidewalls, but shock-absorbing wheels with flexible spokes have taken their place.