The wheel’s origin and development is a fascinating story told by an easy-to-like former professor of biology at Duke University, Steven Vogel. His just-published book, “Why the Wheel is Round”, unfortunately, is a posthumous achievement. Steve died in 2015.
The wheel is alien to nature. No living thing we can see without a microscope has an appendage that makes a complete 360 degree rotation. Instead, the muscles of virtually all living things, attached to rigid exo- or endoskeletons, create movement by pulling on cleverly hinged mechanisms in relatively short-stroke contractions.
Ironically, human technologies have taken the alien path, employing chiefly rotary motion to grind, spin, lift, drill, turn, create tools, generate power and go places.
“Why the Wheel is Round” tells how this came about.
The Golden Age of the Wheel For the last 300 years hydrocarbon engines have flourished. They’ve proliferated as linear-to-rotary motion conversion machines, with a piston and crankshaft emulating (in reverse) a muscle and crank handle. A fabulous, relatively recent machine, the motorcycle, converts linear motion to rotary motion…and ultimately, wonderfully, back to linear!