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History of Bearings
Ancient Mesopotamia Modern day Iraq and the discovery of the Wheels
Before the rolling-bearings evolved in to a form closely resembling its modern shape, the development of rolling bearings had to go through many phases of its Technological development

  • The critical breakthrough in the implementation of the concept of lessening the friction force associated with movement was the invention of the wheel; which is probably the most important mechanical invention of all time. Based on diagrams on ancient clay tablets, the earliest known use of this essential invention originated from the region of present-day Iraq (Ancient Mesopotamia) Ubaid Period  six thousand years ago, between 4500 and 4300 BC; originally in the function of Potter's wheel (Fig.1) furthermore, the Sumerian civilization Around 4500BC, which gave birth to crucial agricultural inventions like the Sled for dragging grain, a Plough, another remarkable Mesopotamian invention was the creation on the plant’s first written language, the Sail that increased traveling speed on water, and the Wagon Wheel (Chariot) (Fig. 2),  that increased traveling speed on land.

These are just a few of ancient Mesopotamia’s achievements (modern-day Iraq). Other includes the first mathematical number system, the first clock or sundial, and city-state law. 1  Fig. 2


The wheel may have been discovered by simple observation of a rolling tree trunk, when a number of tree trunks are placed on the ground close together; and a weight is placed upon them the object (material) can be moved much more easily. The rolling trunks cause less friction than dragging the object on the ground, which substituted the sliding movement with the rolling movement.
In conclusion, the modern design of rolling bearings is the product of that invention; it has gone a long way from its most ancient prototype to its modern shape through a multitude of intermediary inventions.

We can all agree, the fact that the invention of a wheel has changed the world we live in incredible ways, nearly every machine built since the start of the industrial revolution involves a single, basic principle embodied in one of mankind’s truly significant inventions. It’s impossible to imagine any mechanized system that would operate without the wheel or the idea of a symmetrical component moving in a circular motion on an axis. The biggest thing that the wheel has done for us is that its creation was the first important step in the discovery of the rolling-element bearings.
Aside from the above mentioned advantage, the creation of the wheel has given us much easier and faster transportation, such as bicycles, cars, Trains & Jet engines.
Diades of Pella, who developed and constructed the 1st prototype of the rolling bearing, a Greek engineer in about the 4th century BC. Moreover he constructed (improved) movable towers, scaling engines and battering cranes. He also wrote a treatise on machinery.



  • The discovery of the first prototypes of axial (thrust) ball bearings technique discovered dates back to the 3rd Roman Emperor (Caius Julius Caesar) Commonly Know by his third name Caligula The ships of the time of Caligula (1st century AD) have been discovered to contain Rotating Discs.
  • 1st Disc of which was discovered by the archaeologists was still operable by small rollers which were attached to its circumference.


  • 2nd Disc which was mounted under the floor, featured balls instead of rollers, each of the balls was connected by the means of a rotating-pin
  • 3rd Disc featured eight wooden cylinders in shape of cones the basis of the turning Discs assembly consisted of two wooden wheels. The lower wheel had a rotating-pin that kept both wheels axially aligned. The top wheel featured eight depressions with spherical rolling elements. These roller elements were held by rotating-pins loosely attached to the top wheel, limiting their movement of the unit around one axis. Despite the fact that the main weight was carried by the turning-pins which did not provide pure rolling.


Nevertheless, this is the first noted Assembly which     contained ball shaped rolling elements; for the purpose of transferring weight.

The Assembly of the turning Discs discovered can be considered to be one of the earliest examples of ball bearings, roller cylindrical and tapered bearings. (Fig. 3) Fig. 3


Rotary bearings are required for many applications, from heavy-duty use in vehicle axles and machine shafts, to precision clock parts. The simplest rotary bearings is the sleeve bearing, which is just a cylinder inserted between the wheel and its axle. This was followed by the roller bearing, in which the sleeve was replaced by a number of cylindrical rollers. Each roller behaves as an individual wheel; the first practical caged-roller bearing was invented by horologist John Harrison in his H3 chronometer of 1760.


Leonardo da Vinci(Fig. 4) Leonardo da Vinci is said to have made use of roller supports in many of his design projects, but these were hardly ever put in to practice up until the beginning of the 18th century. Leonardo da Vinci has made a drawing of a revolutionary pivot bearing whose originality is illustrated by example the changing of sliding resistance into greatly reduced rolling resistance. Fig. 4


The 19th century saw further improvements in the design of rolling bearings and their increased use in machinery and equipment. But it was the introduction of abrasive machining toward the end of the last century that facilitated the attaining of sufficient hardness and precision of bearing elements.
In the beginning, metal balls were produced manually from steel rods. This lack of precision led to an uneven spread of weight which resulted in bearing deformation, the turning point in ball machining was the work of a technician and inventor by the name of Friedrich Fischer. Friedrich’s idea from the year 1883 for milling and grinding balls of equal size and exact roundness; by means of suitable production machine formed the foundation for creation on an independent bearing industry. Fischer’s discovery made it possible to machine hardened steel balls, a grinding process that gave them a spherical shape.


  • The Present Day

Ball bearings could not be applied in all areas. Further research has thus led to the development of cone, rolling and needle bearings.

The modern, self-aligning design of ball bearing is attributed to a young Swedish engineer by the name of Sven Wingquist in 1907 that made a sketch in his diary of the first self-aligning bearing.

The post World War I period saw the replacement of the slide bearing by anti-friction bearings, this process was revolutionized by the appearance of the rolling bearing; towards the end of the first quarter of the 20th century. Soon thereafter, appeared many other types of rolling-elements bearings like needle bearings, followed by cone bearings. At around the midst of the 20th century, the development of powder metallurgy has led to the development of oil less slide bearings. This lasted long when used in small machinery.



  • Iraq cultural Office (Washington DC) Iraq’s History

  • Ancient Mesopotamia (The urban history of Mesopotamia) 

  • Leonardo da Vinci (Practical inventions and projects)

  • John Harrison (24 March 1693 – 24 March 1776)






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