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The Wheel

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The Wheel

The wheel is one of humanity’s greatest technological innovations from ancient times. Although it has gone through many different design changes over the years, its original purpose has remained the same. The purpose would be that of transportation. Who would have thought that the use of wooden wheels as a means of transport by the Sumerians back around 3200 B.C., would lead to using rubber tires on cars to help us get around today? The wheel, as we know it today, has survived throughout the centuries and many civilizations to become one of those creations that many people now take for granted.

The beginnings of the wheel took place in Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia was located between the Tigris and the Nile rivers. The Sumerians were the people who inhabited this fertile land around 3200 B.C. Back then they hauled things by hand or either on their backs and heads. Someone came up with the idea to put the heavy objects on logs to roll them along. Later they added a runner to this and then placed the logs underneath it. The heavy object was then placed on top of the runner, which made transporting it even easier. This became known as a sledge.
The Sumerians began to notice that over time the roller started developing grooves in it. The grooves also allowed for a greater distance of transport before another log had to be placed under the sledge. The next thing they did was to cut away the wood in between the grooves to create what we now call an axle. Both sides of the axle were fastened to the runners by wooden pegs. The runners stayed in place while the axle and the wheels now turned. This created the first wooden carts. The next improvement to be made was the drilling of holes through the cart as a way of attaching the axle instead of using the pegs. Wheels and axles were then made separately from that time on. Another improvement on the axle was a fixed axle. This allowed for better maneuverability around corners.

The Sumerians used the carts for transporting crops, heavy objects, supplies, people and anything else that would have caused a burden on them. This also helped them with their irrigation process and the building up of their cities. Throughout the years they progressed to two and four wheeled vehicles that were drawn by oxen. They also used oxen drawn chariots for war purposes. Later the Egyptians improved on the design of the wheel by creating them with spokes. The Greeks and then later the Romans also added their own designs to the wheel. The Romans created a more diverse array of wheeled vehicles than the other cultures. Their two wheeled vehicles included farm carts and covered carriages. They used chariots for war, racing, and hunting. The Romans also had four wheeled vehicles that included freight wagons and passenger coaches.

Wheels today are made up of many different materials and have many uses. We have rubber tires for our cars, bicycles, skates, and airplanes just to name a few. There are also metal wheels on trains, mechanical wheels used on pulleys, the rubber wheel on the mouse for our computer usage and many more uses of this great invention. Technologically speaking it has allowed mankind to design and build many things over the years. Some of those include jet engines, turbine engines, spinning wheels, airplane propellers and even simple things like tracer wheels for sewing, the rolling pin for the kitchen, and the steering wheel on cars. There are just too many things to name them all. We also use the wheel to transport things. Whether it is our luggage, crops, manufactured products, or anything else, the wheel is still used today as it was by the Sumerians, as a means of transportation. It also makes our lives today a lot easier and we just could not live without. The wheel is used in so many other applications today that people sometimes take it for granted and don’t appreciate how it really helps us in our everyday lives. I for one am glad that we have it.


“Wheel” Encyclopedia Americana – International Edition Volume 28, 2005, 2004 edition.

“Wheel” The New Encyclopedia Britannica Volume 12, 2005 edition.

Shpakivsky, Nilkolay. “Who Invented the Wheel?” Generator 16 Nov. 2006


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