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THE EVOLUTION OF THE WHEEL

Today wheels are used everywhere. From cars to rolling chairs they are like to be in every building
Pneumatic Tires
The pneumatic rubber tire uses rubber and enclosed air to reduce vibration and improve traction. Robert W.
Thomson, a Scottish engineer, first patented the air filled tire. Unfortunately the idea was too early for its time
and was not a commercial success.
In 1888 John Boyd Dunlop of Belfast, Ireland became the second inventor of the pneumatic tire. Dunlop
claimed to have no knowledge of Thomsons earlier invention.
The second time around the pneumatic tire caught the publics attention. The timing was perfect because
bicycles were becoming extremely popular and the lighter tire provided a much better ride.
Pneumatic Tyre (Tire)
John Boyd Dunlop (1840-1921) was a Scottish veterinarian and the recognized inventor of the first
practical pneumatic or inflatable tyre/tire. His patent was for a bicycle tire, granted in 1888. However, Robert
William Thomson (1822 - 1873) invented the actual first vulcanised rubber pneumatic tire. Thomson patented
his pneumatic tire in 1845, his invention worked well but was to costly to catch on. Dunlop's tire patented in
1888 did, and so he received the most recognition. William Thomson also patented a fountain pen (1849) and a
steam traction engine (1867).
Why are rubber tires better than wood or metal?
1

Rubber deforms to create a larger contact patch than the size of the tire, which increases traction over
uneven surfaces.
2. As veinglory said, shock absorption, which is huge. Rubber tires act as a bouncy cushion.
3. Noise. Rubber tires are much quieter.
4. Durability. Due to their shock absorbing qualities, they isolate the vehicle from vibration and shock,
which prolongs its life.
5. Lifespan. Wood warps, cracks and splinters.

Dateline 3500 B.C.--Today man invented the greatest invention ever seen, THE WHEEL!
Thousands of years later, the wheel has come a long way. For one thing it is no longer made of wood and it is
guaranteed that the ride is much smoother. What hasn't changed is the fact it is still one of man's greatest
inventions. Could you even imagine where we would be today without it?
The early wheel was very simple...a solid curved piece of wood, then leather was eventually added to soften the
ride, as time progressed it became solid rubber which led to today's tire--the pneumatic, or air inflated, radial
tire.
The first wheels made of metal or wood were very durable but did not provide a very comfortable ride. The
nearest thing to the first tire was a metal hoop. There were many individuals that made contributions in creating
the tire as we think of it today.
Vulcanization and Charles Goodyear
Rubber was not always as useful as it is today. Early rubber did not hold shape; it would be sticky in hot
weather and become inflexible in the cold.

In 1839 Charles Goodyear was credited with the discovery of the vulcanization process. Vulcanization is the
process of heating rubber with sulfur. This transforms sticky raw rubber to firm pliable material which makes
rubber a perfect material for tires.
The story of Charles Goodyear is a sad one, although he dedicated his entire life to making rubber a better form
he would never profit from all his work. Charles Goodyear died bankrupt.
Forty years later a rubber company would honor his hard work by using his name for their new tire company.
The wheel is everywhere on all our cars, trains, planes, machines, wagons, and most factory and farm
equipment. What could we move without wheels? But as important as the wheel is as an invention, we don't
know who exactly made the first wheel.
The oldest wheel found in archeological excavations was discovered in what was Mesopotamia and is believed
to be over fifty-five hundred years old
Development of a Functional Wheel
The following steps and developments took place to invent a functioning wheel, more or
less in this order:
This is Heavy
Humans realized that heavy objects could be moved easier if something round, for example a fallen tree log,
was placed under it and the object rolled over it.
The Sledge
Humans also realized a way to move heavy objects, with an invention archeologists call the sledge. Logs or
sticks were placed under an object and used to drag the heavy object, like a sled and a wedge put together.
Log Roller
Humans thought to use the round logs and a sledge together.
Humans used several logs or rollers in a row, dragging the sledge over one roller to the next.
Inventing a Primitive Axle
With time the sledges started to wear grooves into the rollers and humans noticed that the grooved rollers
actually worked better, carrying the object further. This was simple physics, if the grooves had a smaller
circumference than the unworn parts of the roller, then dragging the sledge in the grooves required less energy
to create a turning motion but created a greater distance covered when the larger part of the log roller turned.
The log roller was becoming a wheel, humans cut away the wood between the two inner grooves to create what
is called an axle.
First Carts

Wooden pegs were used to fix the sledge, so that when it rested on the rollers it did not move, but allowed the
axle to turn in-between the pegs, the axle and wheels now created all the movement. These were the first carts.
Improvements to the cart were made. The pegs were replaced with holes carved into the cart frame, the axle was
placed through the hole. This made it necessary for the larger wheels and thinner axle to be separate pieces. The
wheels were attached to both sides of the axle.
Fixed Axles Make a Functional & Successful Wheel
Next, the fixed axle was invented, where the axle does not turn but is solidly connected to the cart frame. Only
the wheels did the revolving by being fitted onto the axle in a way that allowed the wheels to rotate. Fixed axles
made for stable carts that could turn corners better. By this time the wheel can be considered a complete
invention.
The rest is history...

The Beginning
Researchers agreed that 3500 BC is the year when the wheel was invented, which is more of a ballpark than an
exact year. The place is Mesopotamia, the area now occupied by war-ravaged Iraq. The first wheel for
transportation purposes is approximated to 3200 BC, its purpose being to move the Mesopotamian chariots.
To be completely historic, as noted here, the very beginning of the wheel goes back to the Paleolithic era
(15,000 to 750,000 years ago).
Back then, humans used logs to move large loads around. The main problem with this method of transportation
was that many rollers were required, and care was required to insure that the rollers stayed true to their course.
One theory as to how this obstacle was overcome suggests a platform, or sledge, was built with cross-bars fitted
to the underside, thereby preventing the rollers from slipping out from under the load. Two rollers would be
utilized, with two cross-bars for each roller, one fore and the other aft of the roller.
It took another 1,500 years before our ancestors thought of the next step in wheel evolution, the spoke. The need
for faster transportation and the idea of using less material stemmed this technological breakthrough. The
Egyptians are credited with the first implementation of a spoked wheel on their model year 2000 BC chariots.
They narrowed it by carving both sides to shape, but it was the Greeks that first introduced the cross-bar, or Htype, wheel.
The first iron rims around the wheel were seen on Celtic chariots in 1000 BC. The spoked wheel remained
pretty much the same until 1802, when G.F. Bauer registered a patent for the first wire tension spoke. This wire
spoke consisted of a length of wire threaded through the rim of the wheel and secured at both ends to the hub.
Over the next few years, this wire spoke evolved into the round tension spoke we see on bicycles today.
Another major invention that came about the same with the wire tension spoke was the pneumatic tire, which
was first patented in 1845 by R.W. Thompson. His idea was further improved in 1888 by John Dunlop, a
Scottish veterinarian, who also patented it. Thanks to the smooth ride, Dunlop's tire replaced the hard rubber
used by all bicycles at that time.

Automobile Wheels
It's fair to start talking about automobile wheels starting with Karl Benz's 1885 Benz Patent Motorwagen. The
three-wheel vehicle used bicycle-like wire wheels, which were fitted with hard rubber.
Speaking of rubber, the first people who thought about using it for automobile purposes were Andr and
Edouard Michelin, who later founded the famous tire company. In 1910, the B.F. Goodrich Company invented
longer life tires by adding carbon to the rubber.
Overseas, Ford's Model T used wooden artillery wheels, which were followed in 1926 and 1927 by steel
welded-spoke wheels. Unlike Karl Benz's first vehicle, the car that "put America on wheels" had pneumatic tires
invented by Mr. Dunlop. There was, however, a big difference between those tires and the ones we used today.
Made of white carbonless rubber, the tire had a life expectancy of around 2000 miles. A tire only lasted for
around 30 or 40 miles before it needed repairs. Common problems included: the tire coming off the wheel,
punctures and the tube being pinched.
Paradoxically, the next step in wheel evolution was the disc one, which bears more resemblance to the initial
solid designs. As with many other things in our history, the change was prompted by lower costs as the steel
disc wheels were cheaper to make. The rim could be rolled out of a straight strip of metal, and the disc itself
could be stamped from sheet metal in one easy motion. The two components were welded or riveted together,
and the resulting wheel was one that was relatively light, stiff, resistant to damage, easily produced in mass
quantities, and most important, cheaply produced.
Perhaps now would be a good time to talk about the difference between rims and wheels. Though most people
refer nowadays to wheels, especially alloy ones as rims, the term actually means the outer portion of the wheel
where the tire is mounted.
Coming back to our story, today there are basically two types of wheels for automotive use, steel and alloy, both
of which have benefited from the technological advancements. As a result, the massive, heavy wheels of the
early automobile days have become lightweight, strong spoked units. It's worth noting that just as the first solid
wheels turned to the spoked design in the relatively early stages of humanity, so did in the 20th century.
Though we won't get too technical about the differences between steel and alloy wheels, we will say that the
latter are lighter and better heat conductors. As a result, cars fitted with alloy wheels sport improved steering
and handling and prolong the life of the brakes. They are also more visually appealing, but that's another story.
On the other hand, alloy wheels are considerably more expensive to make than steel ones, which raises the
overall price of the car.
Future of the Wheel
As the traditional wheel design is close to exhausting any possible development, companies are looking at more
and more exotic prototypes to replace it. Among these, Michelin is probably the most active in the field of
research with two recent innovative concepts, the Tweel and the Active Wheel System.
Tweel
Announced in 2006, the Tweel returns to the first designs by using a non-pneumatic solution instead of the
traditional tire and wheel combination. The rolling surface consists of a rubber tread, which is bonded to the hub
via flexible spokes. The flexible spokes are fused with a deformable wheel that absorbs shocks and rebounds.
Michelin claims that even without the air needed in conventional tires, the Tweel still delivers pneumatic-like
load-carrying capacity, ride comfort and resistance to road hazards.

Though it offers many advantages, the Tweel is marred by a big problem: vibration at speeds over 50 mph (80
km/h), which only makes suitable for construction and personal mobility vehicles.
Active Wheel System
The concept is probably the most revolutionary of them all as it incorporates all of the car's key components
into the wheel itself. While only suitable for electric cars, the Active Wheel System houses the engine, the
suspension, the gearbox and the transmission shaft.