Who Invented the Wheelbarrow?
The history of the wheelbarrow began in Greece circa 406 BC. However, there are no records that indicate who actually made it.
The Wheelbarrow in Ancient Civilizations
Today, as we walk past a building site, we would expect to see a wheelbarrow, as part of workmen’s standard equipment for building a home or an outhouse.
But the ancient Greeks, who most likely invented it, didn’t say what they used the device for. In fact, there is nothing that indicates it was utilized for farming. But most scholars assume that the device was employed on construction sites. The vehicle was very likely used to transport certain loads to the site.
There is evidence of a one wheeled vehicle in 4th century AD Rome. However, the ongoing research suggests that the wheelbarrow may have been used there too.
The history of the wheelbarrow doesn’t provide information on its use in the Byzantine Empire. From the fall of Rome to the 11th century, use of the wheelbarrow stopped. There are no records indicating when or why this happened. It is possible that as Europe was plunged into chaos following Rome’s collapse, the vehicle was simply forgotten.
The Wheelbarrow in Medieval Times
Records show that the wheelbarrows reappeared around 1170 to 1250. Almost all of them had the same design. The wheel was set at the front area. This arrangement is still used in virtually all wheelbarrows.
Research into the vehicle’s history is difficult. The main reason is the language. Countries used different terms to describe it. This makes it hard to determine if the vehicle referred to is a wheelbarrow or not.
But studies on the history of the wheelbarrow have shed some light on the matter. There are at least four instances where the wheelbarrow was mentioned, from 1172 to 1222. But the terms used were different.
The first time that the wheelbarrow was referred to dates from 1222. This was an English document involving the purchase of wheelbarrows. They were to be used for the construction of the king’s projects in Dover. It was first represented in Matthew Paris’ Vitae duorum Offarum (1250).
By the 13th century, the wheelbarrow was being utilized in mining, building and agriculture. Based on available documents, the vehicle was most popular in France and the United Kingdom. It became more widespread during the 15th century.
The Wheelbarrow in China
No study of the history of the wheelbarrow would be complete without looking at China. The earliest depictions of the vehicle date from the 2nd century. These depictions were found in murals from the Han dynasty. The same dynasty also showed the wheelbarrow on tomb reliefs.
Another depiction of the wheelbarrow was found in Chengdu dating from 118 AD. Another one was found in Shen Fujun in the Sichuan province. It was a stone carving dated from 150 AD. Another one was found dating from 147 AD.
However, there are indications that its use goes back further than this. The 5th century Book of Later Han speaks of the lu che, which seems like a wheelbarrow. According to the book, the lu che dates from 30 BC.
Aspects of the history of the wheelbarrow are still being debated. But whatever its origin, it has proved its usefulness in many tasks.