I know what you are thinking, what’s so special about the wheel right? The answer in short is…a lot! From the earliest wooden creations to the carbon and titanium built wonders we see today, the wheel has undergone numerous makeovers and has been responsible for driving modern civilization forward (no pun intended). Here we will look at a brief history of the humble wheel, and where it may be headed in the future.
The old saying necessity breeds invention has rung true since the humble beginnings of humanity. The wheel is up there with electricity and flight as one of our greatest accomplishments.
The wheel was necessitated by the fact humans were struggling to transport goods and build materials over long distances effectively. The first wheels were believed to have been created around 3500BC. It’s hard to imagine that back then people were getting around on solid stone Flintstone rims. The biggest advancement came around the time the axle was invented, allowing it to be placed inside the wheel thus allowing livestock, goods and people to be transported on a platform of sorts.
Most commercial applications of the wheel began when it was in its simple wooden incarnation. This style of wheel was used for thousands of years, undergoing only slight alterations during that period. From a single solid piece of wood to carved and inserted spokes, the world was changing and so was one of its most important inventions.
The biggest advancement since the wheels inception, took place in the 1870’s, when wire wheels and pneumatic tires were invented. The addition of air filled tires allowed an otherwise uncomfortably bumpy journey to become bearable and paved the way for today’s high tech offerings. The wheel really is something that we now all take for granted as we drive to work, have car parts delivered, or move huge materials and resources that assist our way of life.
The history of the wheel has not finished being written, with many companies attempting to write the next chapter by developing ideas that are straight out of a science fiction movie. One example, patented by Michelin, the ‘Tweel’ is an airless wheel with flexible spokes. Although its commercial applications are limited, NASA has contracted the company to produce them for their next generation Lunar Rover.
So the next time you head out to the garage and admire your ride, consider those wheels you run are the result of thousands of years of evolution and with the transportation of people, goods and anything else you can think of relying on the wheel, we say roll on the next century.