The covered wagons of the early and mid 19th century that carried most of the Americans who opened the West became a ubiquitous symbol of grit, fortitude, courage and yearning for opportunity and change. Without the iron clad wooden wheels on those wagons that would not have happened the same way or at the same time.
Henry Ford converted horse drawn carriages into horseless carriages and was the first great mass manufacturer of automobiles.
Franklin Roosevelt practically made his inevitable wheelchair invisible.
Twenty years ago, my wife and I trekked in Nepal for 10 days, more than 12,000 feet up, on trails with no smoothing (much less paving at all). It was most likely the longest period I ever went without seeing a single wheel.
In fact, those trails were tough going. One day one of our Sherpas put down his 70 pound basket load to come back and help me over some obstacle. That evening I thanked him again for being so thoughtful and helpful when he had no shoes and so much to carry. I will never forget his response. He said not to worry as he was lucky and had it easy because he could put his load down and I could not! Never underrate the wit and intelligence of local people with little education and no wheels to smooth their way in life.
Again in the 19th century, and before, pulleys were used to distribute power through networks of cables from a central source to various machines in factories, mills, elevators and quarries. Those often invisible wheels were the disruptive technologies of their time.
The clocks invented in England and Germany in the 17th and 18th centuries employed finely tooled wheels that enabled sailors and travelers to find their way in uncharted waters and lands.
The amazing stone Icons of Easter Island were quarried and then moved on wooden wheels by hand for 20 odd miles to stare at the endless seascape for eons of years.
The ball bearings invented and improved by Mr. Timken were an essential part of winning World War II by making possible modern aircraft, tanks and bomb sights.
The gigantic Ferris Wheel, first built in 1892 for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of Columbus finding America, and now an even larger version in London known as The Eye (because it has the best views of the city), never cease to capture people’s imagination and excitement.
In recent decades, many children first encountered the “thrill of the road” as toddlers pedaling a BIG Wheel tricycle. And, to many of them, their Dad also was a big wheel.
And last, but not least, one of the most popular game shows on Television is The Wheel of Fortune which has made a lot of worthy people very happy.
All these various wheels have two things in common:
When they squeak they need grease — sometimes in the form of hydrocarbons, sometimes money.
Most important of all they each stand in various ways for FREEDOM – to move, see, win wars and enjoy a good life.