The Wheel ( 3500 BC )

The wheel is probably the most important and simple mechanical invention of all time.  The invention of the wheel allows farmers to have carts in which they can easily bring their produce a few miles to market. This capability expanded with the invention of vehicles like trains and cars.


A Mesopotamian wheel.
A Mesopotamian wheel.

image source: http://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-technology/revolutionary-invention-wheel-001713

What is the wheel and when was it invented?

The oldest known wheel found in an archaeological excavation is from Mesopotamia, and dates to around 3500 BC. This period was known as the Bronze Age, which is a relatively late chapter in the story of the development of human civilisation. By this time, human beings were already planting crops, herding domesticated animals, and had some form of social hierarchy.


One of the reasons why the wheel was invented only at this point in history is due to the fact that metal tools were needed to chisel fine-fitted holes and axles. This leads to the next reason – the wheel was not just a cylinder rolling on its edge. It was a cylinder that was connected to a stable, stationary platform.

The wheel is a cylinder shaped object that rolls fairly easily. The first wheel was made from clay, rock and mud which slowly developed to the making of wheels by joining together of wooden planks. They connected it to vehicles called chariots. It got them to places they wanted to go quickly.

The wheel was invented by the ancient Sumerians. They lived in the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers in the Middle East. Much, much later this land became part of the country we call Iraq. The Sumerians were the first people to develop a written language. Extensive studies of their writings have led archaeologists and historians to also credit them with the invention of the wheel.
The concept of the wheel actually grew out of a mechanical device that the Sumerians had invented shortly after 3500 B.C.—the potter’s wheel. No other civilization of their time had one. This was a heavy flat disk made of hardened clay. It was spun horizontally on an axis to allow the potter to form evenly shaped jars and bowls from wet clay. The Sumerians didn’t, however, simply turn this clay-splattered wheel on its end and hook it to a wagon to make a wheel. Instead, the concept of the wheel went through many stages of development before it became a practical method for moving heavy objects from one location to another.

Source: http://www.ancientmesopotamians.com/mesopotamia-wheels.html

Pottery Wheels
Pottery Wheels

image source: http://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-technology/revolutionary-invention-wheel-001713?nopaging=1

from the wheel to the Chariot

The earliest known use of this essential invention was a potter’s wheel that was used at Ur in Mesopotamia as early as 3500 BC. The first use of the wheel for transportation was on Mesopotamian chariots in 3200 BC.

The Sumerians’ First Wheel: “The Roller”
The Sumerians’ First Wheel: “The Roller”

image source: https://antiquitynow.org/2013/08/20/kids-blog-the-invention-of-the-wheel-how-the-ancient-sumerians-got-humanity-rollin/

The wheel started out as a man-made log. The Sumerians figured out that if they could prop the edge of a heavy crate up onto a long log-shaped object, they would be able to roll the load over the object and move it forward. They would then place a second log under the front edge of the load and continue rolling it. Believe it or not, this was the first wheel. Interestingly, the Sumerians did not use large logs cut from trees. Unfortunately, trees with thick trunks did not grow where they lived. This land was very dry except for a few swamps near the rivers. The only kinds of trees that grew there were wild fruit trees and soft palm trees. Neither of these had thick, straight trunks that could be cut down and made into logs.The Sumerians, however, were very creative and didn’t let that stop them. They cut flat planks from the trees and fastened them together into the shape of a log. They then chiseled the wood down so that it would be curved enough to roll. This was the first “wheel.”

The Sumerians’ Second Wheel: “The Sledge”
The Sumerians’ Second Wheel: “The Sledge”

image source: https://antiquitynow.org/2013/08/20/kids-blog-the-invention-of-the-wheel-how-the-ancient-sumerians-got-humanity-rollin/

Being very practical people, the Sumerians were not satisfied with “The Roller. They wanted an easier way to move heavy loads. Their next invention was called “The Sledge.” It did not have a roller. Instead, they took their crate and attached a base with runners under it so that it resembled a large sled. The front edges of these runners were curved up like skis. Because of this curve, the runners slid more easily across the ground. There was also a straight crosspiece that connected the two runners in the front. It braced the two runners and was used as a handle for pulling and guiding the sledge. It took a lot of pushing and pulling, but people were able to move their loaded crates on the runners. This sledge worked well unless the terrain was rocky or bumpy. The runners kept catching on rocks and tree roots and jerking to a stop. The Sumerians then decided to combine their roller wheel idea with the sledge idea and placed the sledge on top of rollers.

The Sumerians’ Third Wheel: “A Sledge on Rollers”
The Sumerians’ Third Wheel: “A Sledge on Rollers”

image source: https://antiquitynow.org/2013/08/20/kids-blog-the-invention-of-the-wheel-how-the-ancient-sumerians-got-humanity-rollin/

This type of wheel worked well as long as the ground was flat. On hillsides and inclines, though, the runners of the sledge kept inching their way off the roller as it moved. Once the runners started slipping sideways, it was almost impossible to inch them back into place. This was a serious problem when you were transporting something very heavy. Too many times, one of the runners slipped off the edge of the roller and the whole load tipped over.

But the once again Sumerians  noticed that after a roller had been used for a while, it started to get grooves where the runners rubbed against the wooden roller.  The Sumerians quickly cut grooves into all their rollers and ended up with a much more efficient wheel.

The Sumerians’ Fourth Wheel: “A Sledge on a Grooved Roller”
The Sumerians’ Fourth Wheel: “A Sledge on a Grooved Roller”

image source: https://antiquitynow.org/2013/08/20/kids-blog-the-invention-of-the-wheel-how-the-ancient-sumerians-got-humanity-rollin/

To move loads this way was tiring and required lots of people. Just moving the rollers to where they had to be used was an exhausting chore. The Sumerians reasoned that it might not be necessary to use the whole heavy roller. Only the ends were actually needed to prop up the load. The middle piece or “axle” connected the two ends and at the same time carried the load. To keep the sledge in place, the Sumerians attached four pegs (two on each side of the sledge). The “axle” rolled between the pegs and this kept the sledge in the right position on top of the axle. The wooden ends of the roller were what we now call “wheels.”

The Sumerians’ Fifth Wheel: “Two Wheels With a Fixed Axle Spinning Between Pegs”
The Sumerians’ Fifth Wheel: “Two Wheels With a Fixed Axle Spinning Between Pegs”

image source: https://antiquitynow.org/2013/08/20/kids-blog-the-invention-of-the-wheel-how-the-ancient-sumerians-got-humanity-rollin/

The Sumerians now had a lighter-weight cart to carry their loads. They tinkered with their new invention and decided to get rid of the pegs. They added a piece of wood to each side of the cart. These pieces hung down under the cart. They then drilled holes in these pieces so that the axle could easily roll inside them. These extra pieces were called “bearings” because they bore the weight of the cart. Now the sledge was permanently attached to the axle and the wheels.

The Sumerians’ Sixth Wheel: “Two Wheels With an Axle, Attached With Bearings”
The Sumerians’ Sixth Wheel: “Two Wheels With an Axle, Attached With Bearings”

image source: https://antiquitynow.org/2013/08/20/kids-blog-the-invention-of-the-wheel-how-the-ancient-sumerians-got-humanity-rollin/

What the Sumerians ended up with was a two-wheeled cart. This was later developed into a chariot that could be pulled by a horse or donkey. Other surrounding civilizations copied the design and quickly adapted the wheel to the needs of their own cultures.

Source: https://antiquitynow.org/2013/08/20/kids-blog-the-invention-of-the-wheel-how-the-ancient-sumerians-got-humanity-rollin/

the wheel today

  • RIM

The rim is the “outer edge of a wheel, holding the tire.” It makes up the outer circular design of the wheel on which the inside edge of the tire is mounted on vehicles such as automobiles. For example, on a bicycle wheel the rim is a large hoop attached to the outer ends of the spokes of the wheel that holds the tire and tube.In the 1st millennium BCE an iron rim was introduced around the wooden wheels of chariots.

  • HUB

The hub is the center of the wheel, and typically houses a bearing, and is where the spokes meet.A hubless wheel (also known as a rim-rider or centerless wheel) is a type of wheel with no center hub. More specifically, the hub is actually almost as big as the wheel itself. The axle is hollow, following the wheel at very close tolerances.

  • SPOKES

A spoke is one of some number of rods radiating from the center of a wheel (the hub where the axle connects), connecting the hub with the round traction surface. The term originally referred to portions of a log which had been split lengthwise into four or six sections. The radial members of a wagon wheel were made by carving a spoke (from a log) into their finished shape. A spokeshave is a tool originally developed for this purpose. Eventually, the term spoke was more commonly applied to the finished product of the wheelwright’s work, than to the materials used.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheel

A spoked wheel on display at The National Museum of Iran, in Tehran. The wheel is dated to the late 2nd millennium BCE and was excavated at Choqa Zanbil.
A spoked wheel on display at The National Museum of Iran, in Tehran. The wheel is dated to the late 2nd millennium BCE and was excavated at Choqa Zanbil.

image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheel#/media/File:Wheel_Iran.jpg

  • WIRE

The rims of wire wheels (or “wire spoked wheels”) are connected to their hubs by wire spokes. Although these wires are generally stiffer than a typical wire rope, they function mechanically the same as tensioned flexible wires, keeping the rim true while supporting applied loads. Wire wheels are used on most bicycles and still used on many motorcycles. They were invented by aeronautical engineer George Cayley and first used in bicycles by James Starley. A process of assembling wire wheels is described as wheelbuilding.

  • TIRE

A tire or tyre  is a ring-shaped covering that fits around a wheel rim to protect it and enable better vehicle performance by providing a flexible cushion that absorbs shock while keeping the wheel in close contact with the ground. The word itself may be derived from the word “tie,” which refers to the outer steel ring part of a wooden cart wheel that ties the wood segments together.

The fundamental materials of modern tires are synthetic rubber, natural rubber, fabric and wire, along with other compound chemicals. They consist of a tread and a body. The tread provides traction while the body ensures support. Before rubber was invented, the first versions of tires were simply bands of metal that fitted around wooden wheels to prevent wear and tear. Today, the vast majority of tires are pneumatic inflatable structures, comprising a doughnut-shaped body of cords and wires encased in rubber and generally filled with compressed air to form an inflatable cushion. Pneumatic tires are used on many types of vehicles, such as cars, bicycles, motorcycles, trucks, earthmovers, and aircraft.

  • TRYWHEEL

A trywheel is an arrangement of three wheels mounted on a y-shaped frame for the purpose of passing over stairs or rough ground. These may be driven by external force or integral motors.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheel

A tire wheel.
A tire wheel.

image source: http://www.lowrider.com/news/1005-lrmp-2010-wheel-tire-guide/

the importance of the wheel in ancient civilizations?

The wheel has also become a strong cultural and spiritual metaphor for a cycle or regular repetition ( chakra, reincarnation, Yin and Yang) . As such and because of the difficult terrain, wheeled vehicles were forbidden in old Tibet. The wheel in ancient China is seen as a symbol of health and strength and utilized by some villages as a tool to predict future health and success. The diameter of the wheel is indicator of one’s future health.

The winged wheel is a symbol of progress, seen in many contexts including the coat of arms of Panama, the logo of the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the State Railway of Thailand.

The introduction of spoked (chariot) wheels in the Middle Bronze Age appears to have carried somewhat of a prestige. The sun cross appears to have a significance in Bronze Age religion, replacing the earlier concept of a Solar barge with the more “modern” and technologically advanced solar chariot.The wheel was also a solar symbol for the Ancient Egyptians.

The wheel is also the prominent figure on the flag of India. The wheel in this case represents law (dharma). It also appears in the flag of the Romani people, hinting to their nomadic history and their Indian origins.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheel

The Tibetan Wheel of Life.
The Tibetan Wheel of Life.

image source: http://www.museumstorecompany.com/The-Tibetan-Wheel-of-Life-p6005.html

the impact of the Mesopotamian wheel

Wheels started being used as gears during the middle Ages. This allowed for the invention of mechanical devices such as clocks, water wheels, cogwheels, and astrolabes for sailors to navigate.

Even in Europe, the wheel evolved little until the beginning of the nineteenth century. However, with the coming of the Industrial Revolution the wheel became the central component of technology, and came to be used in thousands of ways in countless different mechanisms.

Nearly every machine built since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution involves a single, basic principle embodied in one of mankind’s truly significant inventions.

It’s hard to imagine any mechanized system that would be possible without the wheel. Without the wheel the world we are in would have had a different functioning all together. We wouldn’t have all the cities and towns without the wheel that is why the wheel is considered to be one of the most important and indispensible inventions in our mankind.

Sources: http://www.ancientmesopotamians.com/mesopotamia-wheels.html

Gears of time, sculptural wall clock
Gears of time, sculptural wall clock

image source: http://steampunkary.com/decor/steampunk-sculpture-from-simple-to-sublime

info sources: http://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-technology/revolutionary-invention-wheel-001713

https://antiquitynow.org/2013/08/20/kids-blog-the-invention-of-the-wheel-how-the-ancient-sumerians-got-humanity-rollin/

http://www.ancientmesopotamians.com/mesopotamia-wheels.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheel

 

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