What was so important about the Wheel?



I feel like there is a lot of emphasis on the invention of the wheel or is that just me? Why was it so revolutionary?

In: Engineering




The idea that you can roll large things instead of picking them up like a dumbass enables people to move large quantities of materials quickly.

It’s not particularly useful if you’re an isolated tribe, but it’s a necessary precursor to large scale civilization.

A wheel enables much more efficient transport. Being able to transport goods and people farther means that communities can trade goods (and ideas!) more easily. More trade makes it possible for towns to specialize; a mining town might not have enough arable land to support a large population on its own, but if they can import food, then they can have more people mining. The net result is more resources becoming available.

Aside from vastly increasing the range, speed, and cargo capacity of overland transportation, and making possible such devices as pulleys, fairly crucial for advanced engineering and architecture, eh, not much, I guess…

But seriously, the wheel made possible commerce on a whole new level, enabling settlements a lot further away from waterways and accelerating the sharing of information and advancement of science by virtue of so much faster transportation by a degree comparable to the development of movable type for printing, or the spread of the internet. It’s one of the most important technologies developed in mechanical science, and one of the earliest.

Without a wheel, you had to drag, or carry, everything (or bully an animal or slave into doing it for you).

A wheel supports the load continuously at the same height. (Square wheels don’t work too well because the corners mean the axle height varies.) And the friction is concentrated in only a small area, which can be lubricated with animal fat.

Exception: what was so important about the boat? Also a low-friction technique, but limited by needing a lake or river on all convenient routes, and you are screwed by waterfalls, and fast flows, and freezing weather.

Notably, a wheel rotates, so it is literally revolutionary. But originally, “revolutionary” referred to Galileo’s assertion that the Earth moved around the Sun, instead of being the centre of the universe.