The wheel is often considered the hallmark of human innovation. The invention of the wheel has been one of the biggest blessings for humanity. It is used in almost all modern transportation modes–from carts, bicycles, and cars to trucks, trains and aeroplanes.
The phrase ‘the world is a global village’ became a reality because of the invention of the wheel, as we can cover long distances quickly now. But have you ever wondered how the wheel came into existence?
Humans believe that we stood up on our two feet, walked out of our caves, discovered fire, and invented the wheel. But in reality, several significant inventions predated the wheel by thousands of years: sewing needles, woven cloth, rope, basket weaving, boats and even the flute.
Most inventions were based on inspiration from the natural world. The pitchfork and table fork idea came from forked sticks; the aeroplane from gliding birds.
But the invention of the wheel took a long time for humans, probably because there was no example of the wheel in nature to replicate. The wheel is one hundred per cent homo sapien innovation!
When Was the Wheel Invented?
Before the invention of the wheel, humans used to carry heavy loads across distances. Later, we began taming and using animals, like oxen, horses, donkeys and camels, for doing these tasks.
Around 3500 BC, a wise Homo sapien residing in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) finally got an idea. He cut a disc from the trunk of a tree. He then made a hole in the centre of the disc. The end product was the wheel that was ultimately used for pottery, but it was the first phase of the greatest inventions in human history!
Without further evolution, the wheel alone would not have done much for humankind. Instead, the wheel and axle combination made early forms of transportation possible, including carts and chariots.
The wheel should have an axle that it can rotate around. This is made possible by fitting the axle (a rotating bar) directly in the centre of the wheel to maximise motion.
Moreover, the axle must remain as thin as possible to reduce its surface area while still supporting the load. The only friction to overcome is between the inner wheel and the axle. The smoother the wheel’s inner surface and the axle’s outer surface, the less friction the system has to overcome.
The First Wheeled Vehicle
Evidence suggests that the wheel was in usage around 3500 BC in Mesopotamia.
However, the oldest wheels made out of wood were discovered in Slovenia and date back to 3200 BC. Researchers believe these wooden wheels were used for chariots around this time.
The usage of the wheel is also found in ancient Greek and Roman mythology as the Wheel of Fortune or Rota Fortunae, a symbol of the unpredictable nature of Fate.
The Egyptians were the first to use the spoked wheel in battle chariots in 2000 BC, allowing for much faster speed.
From there, the wheel remained unchanged until the 19th century until Robert William Thompson invented the rubber wheel using compressed air called a tyre. This paved the way for the tyres we use today.
Wheels Continue to Progress
Over time, numerous improvements have been made to the design of wheels. Today, the rims and spokes of the wheels are typically made of iron, with rubber tires and tubes put around them. Due to these improvements, the wheel has become lighter, more efficient and long-lasting. It can be rightfully said that the world is progressing fast with the help of the wheel!
Raza has been writing since 2008, be it fiction, poetry, or articles on science, politics, and history. He believes that words can change the world, and he uses them to inspire and empower people through his writing. When he is not working, he is watching nature documentaries or playing with his cats.
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