One of the most important inventions in all of human history is the wheel and axle combination. With this invention, all tasks become much simpler. Wheels don’t exist in nature on their own and even animals don’t use wheels. The first documented artifacts that we have showing humanity using the wheel come from around 4000BC when the Sumerians were beginning to live in cities. It is thought that the first wheels were pottery wheels. About 300 years later, there is evidence that the tribes of Central Asia began making wagon wheels, which would need to have an axle to function.
Who specifically invented the wheel and axle combination we’ll likely never know. What we do know, however, is that wheels help people in two very specific ways.
A Wheel and Axle Gives a Tremendous Mechanical Advantage
When you’ve got a wheel that you can use, then you’re gaining the ability to do something easy for a long time. Without the wheel, all the tasks become more difficult to do and therefore they can only be performed for a short amount of time. By adding an axle into the equation, you’re able to turn something even heavier, like a very large wheel, with a minimum amount of personal force. Think about what you see in the modern automobile – a lot of force is used to turn the axles and that makes the wheels on the car go fast.
When you have a wheel and axle combination, you’re also creating an environment where there is less friction in place that is resisting your movement. Because most of the wagon is off of the ground, it is easier to move. Think about it this way: how difficult would it be to pull 200 pounds that was sitting on the ground? It’d be hard to do! Put that on a wagon and axle combination and even a child could pull the weight with ease.
The Wheel and Axle Combination Is Used in Almost Every Industry
We often associate the wheel and axle with vehicles today or other forms of equipment that provide us with transportation, but this invention is used in a number of different ways as well.
• Windmills utilize this invention to help create perpetual motion from the wind that is translated into some form of power, for pumping water, spinning motors, or other needs.
• Wheelbarrows are like the wagons of old, allowing people to get weight off the ground and lessen resistance.
• Cars use wheels in other ways too – open up the hood and see where the belts are routed to keep your engine going because that’s a wheel and axle too.
The wheel and axle might seem like a relatively simple invention, but its effects have been profound for probably 6,000 years – if not more. Take a look around you today to see how many different ways wheels and axles are used and then think about what life would be like without this invention.