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The History of the Wheel

The wheel is a relatively new invention when compared with other developments in human evolution. The first known wheel was found during an archaeological excavation in Mesopotamia, dating from 3500BC – the Bronze Age.

By this time, people already had a social hierarchy and they were herding domestic animals and planting crops. They were making boats, digging canals and designing musical instruments, such as the harp. So, the wheel was lagging behind other milestones in human history!

Researchers believe the early wheels weren’t used for chariots but were rather potters’ wheels. The first time wheels were used for transportation was around 300 years later. Archaeological records show Mesopotamian chariots were in existence in 3200BC, while the first wheels with iron rims were added to Celtic chariots in 1000BC. Scientists have long pondered why wheels weren’t thought of prior to this, when the only way of moving large loads was to roll them on a series of logs – a complex method.

Anthropology professor, David Anthony of Hartwick College, New York, explained the tricky part of the wheel was working out how to connect it to a stationary platform. He described the wheel and axle concept as a stroke of brilliance. However, making it was also difficult.

The end of the axle and the holes in the middle of the wheels had to be smooth and round – otherwise, friction would stop them from turning. The axles had to be a snug fit but not so tight that they prevented the wheels from moving. Also, the axle must be thick enough to support the load but not so thick that it created friction. Professor Antony believes advances in carpentry finally led to the invention of the wheel, as cast copper chisels were invented just before 3500BC, which would enable craftsmen to fashion the axle and wheel smoothly.

The wheel spread quickly across Eurasia and the Middle East, with early discoveries of wheeled carts excavated in Poland but it wasn’t until 1791 that the first patent for a wheel was received by the US Patent and Trademark Office from James Macomb, of Princeton, New Jersey. He was granted a patent for a horizontal water wheel, creating hydropower for mills.

The wheel remained virtually unchanged until 1802, when a patent for the first wire tension spoke was registered by GF Bauer. In 1845, RW Thompson patented the first pneumatic tyre and in 1888, this concept was further improved and patented by John Dunlop of Scotland, with Dunlop tyres being widely used on bicycles.

In 1885, the Benz Patent Motorwagen, a three-wheeled vehicle designed by Karl Benz, used bicycle-type wire wheels fitted with hard rubber tyres. In 1889, the first innovators who used rubber for automobiles were Edouard and André Michelin, who founded the famous tyre company. In 1910, the BF Goodrich Company added carbon to the rubber to prolong the tyres’ life. In the US, Ford’s Model T used steel-welded spoke wheels and Dunlop pneumatic tyres in 1926.

There was a massive difference between these tyres and the ones used today, however. The original tyres were made of carbonless rubber and often lasted only around 30 to 40 miles before needing repair. Common problems included punctures and the tyre slipping off the wheel.

The next development was the steel disc wheel, which was more resistant to damage and could be mass produced in large quantities relatively cheaply. There are two types of wheel for vehicles today: steel and alloy. They have both benefited from the huge advances in technology and the large, heavy wheels of the early automobiles have been replaced with lightweight yet strong spoked units, providing a much smoother ride than their early predecessors.

H&H Van Hire can assure customers a pleasant journey when using our van hire services. Our entire fleet of modern vehicles is equipped with top-quality wheels and tyres, professionally serviced and maintained to assure customers a hassle-free trip. Vehicle technology has come a long way since the days when tyres were shot after 40 miles – even if you’re driving from Land’s End to John O’Groats, you can trust H&H Van Hire!

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