It is one of the most important inventions of mankind. So much so that it is difficult to imagine the world without it. In addition, it was and continues to be fundamental for any number of things … but where did it come from? The one of wheel is perhaps the main inventions in the trajectory of technological development of the human being. With it, primitive peoples made transportation faster and easier, in addition to helping to transform the first human settlements into larger cities.
The oldest proof of its use dates from around 3500 BC, and comes from an outline on a clay plate found in the region of ancient Sumer, in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), but it is certain that its use comes from much more remote periods.
The oldest wheels found in archaeological explorations are from about 3000 to 2000 BC and were in tombs in the same Mesopotamia. They were composed of three boards attached by cross-shaped supports, and the central board had a natural hole in the knot of the wood. The wood around the knot is usually quite sturdy, so it is believed that it revolved around a fixed axis, although the rest of the vehicle to which these wheels belonged has not been preserved enough to identify whether it was that way. The set worked.
The first improvement over the original models was probably the placement of a wooden rim, which allowed uniform wear of the wheel over its entire surface. Such a ring could be a single piece, made of curved wood with the aid of steam, or else, of several spliced segments. Five hundred years later, the first metal rings would appear.
The spoke wheel appears in Mesopotamia or in modern Turkey, and is used in war chariots. Around 1500 BC, the Egyptians dominated the technology, with the construction of four-spoke wheels, very light.
From then on, its design would remain almost unchanged for a long time, and the only innovations are linked to different uses of the wheel, such as the use in water mills and windlass (launching or dragging mechanisms). Until the 16th century, the most relevant innovation was the creation of the convex disc wheel, with the spokes arranged in the shape of a flattened cone. Around 1870, wire spokes wheels were designed for bicycles, and a decade later, the pneumatic rim was developed (although patented forty years earlier).
Despite a basic and elementary invention, the wheel still finds fundamental importance in the midst of our society, especially in modern automobiles. The first models had wooden rim wheels, like the carts. Soon wheels with wire spokes are adopted and the so-called “artillery wheels”, manufactured in a single piece of cast iron. In the 1930s, stamped steel wheels appeared, lighter, stronger and cheaper. Currently, the most popular type among consumers is the alloy wheels.