Virtually every modern household has a basic wheelbarrow stored away. The use of the wheelbarrow is ubiquitous in construction and basic home chores. The design, form and function of the wheelbarrow has not appreciable changed for 700 years. And yet, this simple tool is one of history’s great advances in creating labor productivity.
No one knows who invented the wheelbarrow. The Chinese used crude, primitive sorts of wheeled carts, similar to the modern unit, as early as the 1st century. It wasn’t until the 13th century, however, that the type of wheelbarrow we now recognize and utilize was known to be in common use.
The forward and centered placement of the wheel made the modern unit more practical to use. One man could leverage and control much more weight with the new version. Historically it took two or more men, using flat stretchers to move heavy material loads. This made construction very labor intensive and slow.
Use of the wheelbarrow was an efficient new method of speeding the construction of the great edifices constructed all over Europe in the Middle Ages. It is quite possible that many of the architectural wonders we enjoy to this day would look very different, and have much smaller scale without the employment of the basic wheelbarrow. Notre Dame, St. Pauls Cathedral, or Windsor Castle would most assuredly not be the wondrous edifices that amaze and thrill us if not for the simple, but essential use of this mundane tool.
The invention of the wheelbarrow resulted from the simple rearrangement of already existing components. The wheel existed. The barrow existed. The principles of leverage were well known. Nevertheless, these elements were not co-mingled in one unit and perfected to become the useful advance in labor saving and productivity that we use to this day until someone creatively addressed this need.
The 21st century presents the creative, entrepreneurial class many opportunities to address and solve real needs. There has never been a better time for the commercialization of new products and services. All over the world inventors, engineers and companies are striving to discover answers and solutions to health, energy, resource, agriculture and material needs. The rate of innovation accelerates each decade. The world is a better place for this bustling outpouring of energy, courage, investment and creativity.
The simple wheelbarrow is a metaphor for progress. This most basic of tools has performed yeoman work for centuries. This invention is a model for modern inventors. Identify and solve a basic need that is present in your personal, social or work universe. Answering real needs with simple solutions can provide the path to fame, fortune and personal satisfaction.
The consumer is the ultimate beneficiary. Life is improved each time a new product is introduced that offers better features and benefits than are currently available. A modern truism is this: “Never the greatest, only the latest”. Novelty and fresh takes on old products are always in demand.