The Wheel

In the history of inventions, there is little doubt that the oldest, and perhaps one of the most valuable inventions invented till date is the good old wheel, round and perfect in shape that has helped mankind travel to every corner of the planet without fatigue or discomfort.

Indeed, the wheel was one of the most revolutionary inventions of its time, still used today in every automobile and moving object, and is now also helping humans to traverse the red sands of the planet Mars, and will of course aid in traversing yet unknown landscapes of our galaxies and universe!

It was never until 3500 BC that the first true wheel was invented in the dry sands of the Mesopotamian deserts. That was a ‘true wheel’ in that it was round and spherical in shape, but altogether an extremely heavy object and difficult to maintain. The real historical date of existence of wheels is much older however, with the first round objects used to carry heavy objects being in existence in the Palaeolithic era (15,000 years and later). Back then, humans used to lay large logs for carrying equipment and objects forward with crossbars to check any slippage. This was the simplest and the most primitive way to carry things forward, but lacked the ability to carry humans forward to long distances.

And hence, it would take several more millennia to invent the round-shaped wheel that we see today. Approximately 14,000 years later, the wheel was developed and attached to a cart driven by a bovine animal. This wheel would allow any human to travel as well as carry any amount of baggage required to several miles and kilometres without the discomfort of using the erstwhile heavy wooden logs. There was a catch however, the wooden carved wheel was still too heavy and difficult to maintain in whatever circumstances offered to it, including wet weather conditions that made the wheel soggy and prone to breaking conditions. This was to evolve further with the introduction of the spoked wheel that standardised its design for the next millennia till modern day.

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Starting from 3200 BC, an additional 1,500 years would be taken for the wheel to become more streamlined, lighter and more adept at harsher conditions with survivability for most terrain forms. Around 2000 BC, the Egyptians were one of the first to use spoked wooden wheels for their chariots and carts, and to give these means of travelling higher sturdiness and adaptability for the terrains that Egypt offered to the people. The spoked wheel design proved to be very revolutionary and established itself as a solid means of transport, both for civil as well as for military purposes. Such was the utility of the spoked wheel that several notable Egyptian pharaohs used it as a decisive military advantage over rivals and political foes who did not yet absorb this technology. The spoked wheel design was also so standard that it would establish itself as the permanent layout for any wheel for the next 3000 years all the way to modern date.

Indeed, the design of the wheel has remained pretty much the same in form, figureand the principles behind it rolling for these last 3000 years starting from the introduction of spokes by Egyptian engineers. The spoked wheel structure would be carried onwards to the European landscape as well, when Celtic chariots would be the first to use metallic spokes instead of wooden on their chariots, dated around 1000 BC. These metallic spoked wheels would remain permanent design till the 1850s when wheel structure started evolving again. In 1802, G.F. Bauer registered a patent allowing for the construction of the first wire tension spoke. In 1845, R.W Thompson would make the first pneumatic tire, replaced by John Dunlop’s design in 1888. The Dunlop brand still exists.

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Technically, modern day wheels are still the same spoked wheels but with a modified structure. Starting from 1885, Karl Benz would patent the first motor wagon to use bicycle type wheels topped with tires for a smooth ride. Hence, the spoked wheel got reinforce by a rubber made tire that would give it balance and support. In the decades to come, and as the automobile industry developed, wheels became thicker and flatter to allow for more friction between the tires and the surface beneath since automobiles were become powerful day-by-day. The present design hasn’t changed much at least since the 1900s when several wheel brands were also established.

In terms of the legacy left behind by the wheel, then it can be said without doubt that the world moves with the help of it. A world without wheels and automobiles is plain impossible and unimaginable. Every month, the tire industry contributes several millions of dollars to the global economy. And as the demand for cars and wheelers increase, this will only increase at a rapid pace. The wheel thus provided mankind the power of traversing.

Would you like to read more about this topic? This book might interest you: Greatest Inventions in History.