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History of inventions: land transport

From the invention of the wheel in 3500 BC to the advent of the automobile at the end of the 19th century, six inventions revolutionized land transport and made an extraordinary contribution to agricultural, industrial and tourist development. of our societies. Above all, these inventions led to profound social changes, in particular in the relationship of individuals to space.

Invention of the wheel (3500 BC)

In early antiquity, the Sumerians used wooden logs to move heavy stones. This led them, around 3500 BC, to make a hole in the center of a round shape and place an axis there: it is the birth of the wheel, on which all our civilization will be built.

The first wheels were solid, made of one piece stone, or wooden often made up of three or four pieces assembled. The lighter spoked and rim wheels are said to have appeared around 2000 BC. J.-C.

Now the wheels are mounted on their axle using ball or roller bearings, or hydrodynamic bearings. These provide a reliable mechanical connection with a minimum of friction.

Invention of the plow (300 BC)

It is the breakthrough invention that made agricultural production take off. In the Neolithic period, the arear appeared, which split the soil of Palestine, but without turning over the earth. Pulled by two oxen, this wooden tool replaced the digging stick and spread between 7000 and 5000 BC throughout Europe.

But the "real" plow as we know it was not born until the 2nd century BC, with the first plowshares in planks. A century later, they are made of metal and sink deeper to overturn heavy soils, increasing agricultural yields in northern Europe by 30%, and allowing more people to be fed.

It is the transition from a kind of careful gardening to the beginning of extensive agriculture. The plow will then be equipped with wheels and will be perfected until the Middle Ages to take its final form.

Invention of the train (1804)

The steam locomotive appeared in Cornwall, southern England, in 1804. Designed by Richard Trevithick, it could pull 20 tons of wagons and reached a speed of 8 km / h.

In the years that followed, the railways were used by manufacturers who transported ores, steel products or textiles on tracks created within the confines of their factories.

Twenty years later, a passenger line was opened: 40 kilometers from Stockton to Darlington, England. The rapid transport of large quantities of materials between different economic zones will play a fundamental role in the industrial revolution in England.

France was not to be outdone: in 1830, the Seguin brothers built their first line between Saint-Etienne and Lyon. Then everything goes very quickly. Driven by speculation, companies are multiplying.

In 1850, the global network extended over 38,000 kilometers. Half a century later, there will be 800,000 ...

Invention of the bicycle (1817)

The history of the bicycle could go back to the mythical Count Mede de Sivrac supposed inventor of the celeriferous in 1790. But it really begins in 1817: the German baron and engineer Karl Drais von Sauerbronn presents in the Luxembourg garden, in Paris, a "machine to run seated ”composed of two iron wheels connected by a crossbar and by the action of the feet on the ground.

After the war of 1870, the improvement of the velocipeds will continue especially in England. The front wheel gets bigger, and the rear wheel gets smaller. This kind of bicycle was a huge success.

Subsequently, the locksmith craftsman Pierre Michaux and his son Ernest endowed it with pedals, and 1885 for these were placed in their current position and connected to the rear wheel by a chain. The enthusiasm will not be denied any more, thanks to the popularity of the campaign factors and, from 1903, of the riders of the Tour de France.

Today, the bicycle remains the most widespread means of transport: there are 1.5 billion in the world. A time eclipsed by the car in industrial countries, it is making a comeback. More or less depending on the country: the Dutch and Danes cycle a thousand kilometers per year on average, the French a hundred.

Invention of the tram (1832)

As its name suggests, the streetcar is an American invention. It was New Yorker John Stephenson who, in 1832, built the first line drawn on horseback, between Manhattan and Harlem.

The first rails, in a protruding U, create significant discomfort and cause a few accidents. They were supplanted in New York in 1850 by grooved rails, then, in 1852, the Frenchman Emile Loubat improved the system by embedding the rails of the 6th Avenue tram in the roadway.

In 1853, during the Universal Exhibition, a test line was presented in Paris. Then, from 1881, electric traction made it possible to reduce costs and nuisances, and the tram then developed in many European cities (London, Berlin, Paris, Milan, etc.). In France, it circulated for the first time in Clermont-Ferrand in 1890.

In the following century, it will be discarded by the bus, but it will come back to life. In France, this “ecological” transport now equips thirteen cities, and eighteen projects are under construction or under study.

Invention of the automobile (1883)

The first functional motor vehicle was invented in 1769 by Joseph Cugnot under the name of Cugnot fardier, but for the first gasoline model one had to wait for the inspiration of a textile engineer by the name of Edouard Delamare-Deboutteville. In 1883, in Rouen, this stranger mounted a small two-cylinder gasoline lighting engine of his own making, on a horse-drawn "hunting station wagon". He filed a patent, but did not manufacture the car, preferring to specialize in gas engines.

Three years later, the German Cari Benz made a motor tricycle which he sold in duplicate, and passed on to posterity. The auto industry was born. On the occasion of the Universal Exhibition of 1889, the first steam vehicle halfway between the automobile and the tricycle, developed by Serpollet-Peugeot, is presented.

In 1900, the United States, France and Germany already produced 9,504 cars. Eight years later, Henry Ford invented his Model T, which he had millions of copies built on his assembly lines. Thanks to him, rapid individual transport for all is born.

The automobile has revolutionized transport and brought about profound social changes, in particular in the relationship of individuals to space. It has fostered the development of economic and cultural exchanges and led to the massive development of new infrastructures (roads and highways, car parks).


- From the history of transport to the history of mobility? : State of play, challenges and research perspectives of Martine Flonneau. PUR, 2009.

- 30,000 years of inventions by Thomas Craughwell. Gründ, 2009.

- The 1001 inventions that changed the world of Jack Challoner. Flammarion, 2010.

For further

- The museum of urban transport (Colombes, Hauts de Seine).

Video: History Of Steam Engine. Inventions u0026 Discoveries Of Transportation For Kids (January 2022).