Ball Bearings Have Been Around Longer Than You Think
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The Egyptians were thought to have been the first to come up with the concept of ball bearings. Although obviously the designs were crude, the implementation and usefulness cannot be discounted. In essence, they used wooden rollers, such as shaved down tree trunks under a type of sled, to move large objects. While this isn't officially confirmed, drawings found within ancient tombs depict and suggest the use of this form of engineering.
The first actual documented example of a ball bearing design dates back to around 40 BC. Discovered among ship wrecks in Italy were Roman ships that incorporated a wooden bearing design that supported a rolling table.
Ball Bearings get Their First Patent
From Leonardo da Vinci and his drawings of a helicopter design that included the use of ball bearings back in 1500, to Galileo and his improved friction reducing "caged" concept, bearings gradually modified into more reliable designs.
The first actual patented bearing design was invented by a British ironmaster named Philip Vaughan. His patent, awarded in 1794, was the first modern ball bearing model, using a grooved axle assembly as the track for the ball bearings.
The Industrial Revolution saw further advancements of the ball bearing, with the wheel and axle usage of bearings proving to be a key element in advancing society through industry.
The first radial ball bearing patent was awarded to a bicycle mechanic, Frenchman Jules Suriray, who fitted his design into a bicycle that later went on to win the first ever bike road race.
In conclusion, we've seen a short example of the gradual improvements of science and technology to "keep things rolling" smoothly. Without the ideas of the many great minds of past generations, we wouldn't be able to offer the best ball bearings today.