Who invented the wheel and when? Well, the wheel might not actually be as old as you think! Did you know: art, pottery, the flute, wine and makeup, were all invented before the wheel?
TL;DRThe earliest evidence for the wheel is....
Who invented the wheel?
The wheel is widely believed to have been invented by the ancient Mesopotamian people around 4200–4000 BC. It appears to have also been invented, independently in China, around 2800 BC.
Surprisingly, the first wheels were not used for transportation but were actually potter’s wheels, known as “tournettes” or “slow wheels”.
One archeologist has claimed to find evidence of a toy, stone “car” that dates to around 5500. However, evidence for this date remains unclear and the original publication has been taken down.
How did they move large objects before the wheel?
Before the invention of the wheel, large/heavy objects were typically dragged on some form of sled.
Now you might be thinking, “But hey, monuments like Stonehenge (3000 BC) used a crude, early form of the wheel: logs to roll the stones across the earth!” However, somewhat bizarrely, archaeologists are increasingly starting to think that these stones were actually moved using a sledge with some form of lubricant, for example, pig lard. The same is true for the Pyramids (2589 and 2504 BC), one theory suggests that the large rocks were dragged on sleds and that water was poured on the sand to reduce friction.
When was the first wheeled vehicle invented?
Somewhere around 3500–3350 BCE, the first wheeled vehicles emerged across parts of Europe and Asia. No one is really sure whether it was a simultaneous invention or a fast-paced adoption of the new technology.
Early, wheeled vehicles were almost certainly 4 wheeled. The earliest known depictions of wheeled vehicles: the Bronocice pot, found in a Neolithic village in Poland. 3,635 -3,370 BC, and several clay tablets found in Uruk – Iraq. Both illustrate 4 wheeled vehicles dated to around 3300-3100 BC.
A series of parallel tracks were found, near Kiel, Germany, that date to around 3420–3385 BC. Because the tracks are “wobbly” archaeologists believe that these were track marks from a wheeled vehicle and not a sled.
2 wheeled vehicles came along slightly later. The first known depiction is dated 3402–2800 BC and was found in a grave gallery, in Lohne-Engelshecke, Germany.
Why did it take so long to invent the wheel?
Although the concept may seem super simple to us 21st-century apes. The wheel is a wholly human invention, that is to say, it doesn’t appear anywhere in nature. Factors such as road infrastructure and the domestication of large animals capable of pulling wheeled vehicles eg. horses, also played a pivotal role in the adoption of the wheel.
The evolution of the wheel
Whilst the first wheels were most likely, solid disks or even sliced tree trunks. They didn’t stay that way for long.
The spoked wheel was invented around 2000 BC in Anatolia (Turkey). Spokes made the wheels lighter giving the Sintashta an upper hand in warfare. Spoked wheels have been found in graves that date back as late as 2100-1800 BC.
Wire-spoked wheels didn’t emerge until the 1870s. We have invention of the bicycle to thank for this.
In Switzerland and Germany, the first wheels were fixed to a rotating axle on a square mortise. Meaning that the wheels turned with the axel. However, in other areas the axel was fixed and the wheels rotated independently. The free-moving wheel design had a distinct advantage when it came to cornering.
The tire is perhaps, yet another invention that can be claimed by the Scots.
Celtic chariots (800–450 BC) are the first known examples to use an iron rim around the wheel.
The first patent for a pneumatic tire was issued in 1847 by the Scottish inventor Robert William Thomson. The first mass-produced tire was made in 1888 on May Street, Belfast, by another Scot: John Boyd Dunlop. He designed it to reduce the headaches his son suffered when riding his tricycle.
The wheel outside of Europe and Asia
As early as 1500 BCE, the indigenous peoples of North America used wheels to create toys, such as animals with wheeled legs. However, the wheel was not widely used for transportation until the arrival of European settlers. One explanation for this is that there were no domesticated animals, suitable for pulling vehicles in America until this point.
In Africa the wheel was barely used outside of the north-eastern corner. Egypt was quick to adopt the wheel. As early as 400 BCE, Nubians used wheels for spinning pottery and as water wheels.
Chinese folk law dates the first wheelbarrow to the early first century, although the first, known evidence of a wheelbarrow was discovered in the tomb of Shen Fujun in Sichuan province. It dates to around 150 AD.
The first wheelbarrows had a front-mounted wheel, similar to the modern-day design we are familiar with. However, in the 3rd century AD, a centrally mounted single wheel wheelbarrow became more popular. This design could reportedly carry up to 6 people!
There was also a rather intriguing sail-powered wheelbarrow design in common use throughout China, thought to date back as early as the 6th century AD. The first documented evidence is found in the writings of Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest – 1797 AD.
Outside of China, the first wheelbarrows found in Europe date to around 1170-1250 AD.
Who Invented the Ferris Wheel?
Although George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr, is the first man credited as inventing his namesake: the Ferris wheel for the Chicago’s World Columbian Fair in 1893 AD. The origins of the Ferris wheel date back to 17th Century AD Bulgaria. These were known as “pleasure wheels” or “up and downs”. Passengers rode in chairs suspended from rotating scaffoldings turned by hand.
The first Ferris wheel was designed to rival the Eiffel Tower. It was 80.4 m (250 ft) in diameter and reportedly carried 2160 people.
It might surprise you to learn that hamsters didn’t become domestic until the mid-1930s AD. So, that wheel your furry friend runs around is probably more modern than you think! However, it’s not the only animal to run in a wheel.
Animal wheels have also been used as functional objects. Between the 16th and 19th centuries AD, the Turnspit dog was used in kitchens across Britain to ensure that meat cooked evenly on a spit. However, the invention of the cheap spit-turning machines (clock jacks) meant that the turnspit dog breed was lost to the pages of history.
Wheels aren’t just for domestic animals! Scientists discovered that even wild animals enjoy running on a wheel. In an experiment with a “wild” wheel a frog, several mice and even a slug took a turn on the wheel!
- Wheeled toys in Mexico
- Wheel running in the Wild
- Turnspit dog
- Stonehenge’s Massive Megaliths May Have Been Moved into Place with Pig Lard
- Solved! How Ancient Egyptians Moved Massive Pyramid Stones
- The Invention of the Wheel and Wheeled Vehicles
- Social Complexity in Prehistoric Eurasia: Monuments, Metals and Mobility
- The Bronocice pot – wiki
- Some Notes on Pictograms Interpreted as Sledges and Vehicles Wheeled in the Archaic Texts from Uruk…
- Palaeohistoria 47/48: Acta Et Communicationes Instituti Bio-archaeologici Universitatis Groninganae 47/48. 2005/2006, Volumes 47-48
- The Indo-European Controversy