AskDefine | Define wheelbarrow

The Collaborative Dictionary

Wheelbarrow \Wheel"bar`row\, n. A light vehicle for conveying small loads. It has two handles and one wheel, and is rolled by a single person. [1913 Webster]

Word Net

wheelbarrow n : a cart for carrying small loads; has handles and one or more wheels [syn: barrow, garden cart, lawn cart]



From wheel + barrow



  1. A small one or two wheeled cart, with handles at one end, for transporting small loads.


A wheelbarrow is a small hand-propelled vehicle, usually with just one wheel, designed to be pushed and guided by a single person using two handles to the rear or a sail may be used to guide the ancient wheelbarrow by wind.
It is designed to distribute the weight of its load between the wheel and the operator so enabling the convenient carriage of heavier and bulkier loads than would be possible were the weight carried entirely by the operator. Their use is common in the construction industry and in gardening. Typical capacity is approximately 170 litres (6 cubic feet) of material.
A two-wheel type is more stable on level ground, while the almost universal one-wheel type has better maneuverability in small spaces, on planks or when tilted ground would throw the load off balance. The use of one wheel also permits greater control of the deposition of the load on emptying.


Ancient Greece

The wheelbarrow was first invented in ancient Greece. Two building material inventories for 408/407 and 407/406 B.C. from the temple of Eleusis list, among other machines and tools, "1 body for a one-wheeler (hyperteria monokyklou)":
Since dikyklos and tetrakyklos mean nothing but "two-wheeler" and "four-wheeler," and since the monokyklos body is sandwiched in the Eleusis inventory between a four-wheeler body and its four wheels, to take it as anything but a one-wheeler strains credulity far beyond breaking point. It can only be a wheelbarrow, necessarily guided and balanced by a man.
There is, however, no other mention of wheelbarrows in ancient Greek sources. In Roman sources, though, there is a one wheeld vehicle attested in the 4th century AD.

Medieval Europe

The wheelbarrow reappeared in Europe sometime between 1170 and 1250. Medieval wheelbarrows universally featured a wheel at or near the front (in contrast to their Chinese counterparts, which typically had a wheel in the center of the barrow), the arrangement now universally found on wheelbarrows.
Research on the early history of the wheelbarrow is made difficult by the marked absence of a common terminology. The English historian of science M.J.T. Lewis has identified in English and French sources four mentions of wheelbarrows between 1172 and 1222, three of them designated with a different term. According to the medieval art historian Andrea Matthies, the first archival reference to a wheelbarrow in medieval Europe is dated 1222, specifying the purchase of several wheelbarrows for the English king's works at Dover. The first depiction appears in an English manuscript, Matthew Paris's Vitae Offarum, completed in 1250.
By the 13th century, the wheelbarrow proved useful in building construction, mining operations, and agriculture. However, going by surviving documents and illustrations the wheelbarrow remained a relative rarity until the 15th century. It also seemed to be limited to England, France, and the Low Countries.

Ancient China

The earliest depictions of single-wheel Chinese wheelbarrows come from 2nd century Han Dynasty tomb murals and brick tomb reliefs. The painted tomb mural of a man pushing a wheelbarrow was found in a tomb at Chengdu, Sichuan province, dated precisely to 118 AD. The stone carved relief of a man pushing a wheelbarrow was found in the tomb of Shen Fujun in Sichuan province, dated circa 150 AD. And then there is the story of the pious Dong Yuan pushing his father around in a single-wheel lu che barrow, depicted in a mural of the Wu Liang tomb-shrine of Shandong (dated to 147 AD). However, there are even earlier accounts than this that harken back to the 1st century BC and 1st century AD. The 5th century Book of Later Han stated that the wife of the once poor and youthful imperial censor Bao Xuan helped him push a lu che back to his village during their feeble wedding ceremony, around 30 BC. It was written that in 231 AD, Zhuge Liang developed the vehicle of the wooden ox and used it as a transport for military supplies in a campaign against Cao Wei. Further annotations of the text by Pei Songzhi (430 AD) described the design in detail as a large single central wheel and axle around which a wooden frame was constructed in representation of an ox. Furthermore, he pointed out that the 3rd century 'gliding horse' wheelbarrow featured the simple difference of the shaft pointing backwards (so that it was pushed instead). However, the lower carrying surface made the European wheelbarrow clearly more useful for short-haul work. According to Needham, this feature may have prompted the Chinese later to adopt the European stretcher-type wheelbarrow. Today, as evidenced by pictures, wheelbarrows almost universally feature the front wheel arrangement first introduced in medieval Europe.
Wheelbarrows in China could generally transport six human passengers at once, and instead of a laborious amount of energy exacted upon the animal or human driver pulling the wheelbarrow, the weight of the burden was distributed equally between the wheel and the puller. European visitors to China from the 17th century onwards had an appreciation for this, and was given a considerable amount of attention by a member of the Dutch East India Company, Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest, in his writings of 1797 (who accurately described its design and ability to hold large amounts of heavy baggage).

The Chinese Sailing Carriage

Due to scarce references in Chinese literature, the earliest date for which the Chinese began mounting masts and sails on large wheelbarrows is uncertain, but European travelers from the 16th century onwards mentioned them with surprise. In 1585 (during the Chinese Ming Dynasty), Gonzales de Mendoza wrote that the Chinese had many coaches and wagons mounted with sails, and even depicted them in artwork of silk hanfu robes and on earthenware vessels. In the 1584 atlas Theatrum Orbis Terrarum written by the cartographer Abraham Ortelius (1527–1598), there are large Chinese wheelbarrows depicted with sails and masts. Likewise, there are the same Chinese wheelbarrows with sails depicted in the Atlas of Gerardus Mercator (1512–1594), as well as the 1626 book Kingdome of China by John Speed.

Modern times

In the 1970s, British inventor James Dyson produced his ballbarrow, an injection moulded plastic barrow with a spherical wheel.
The Honda HPE60, an electric power-assisted wheelbarrow, was produced in 1998.



  • M. J. T. Lewis, "The Origins of the Wheelbarrow," Technology and Culture, Vol. 35, No. 3. (Jul., 1994), pp. 453-475
  • Andrea L. Matthies, "The Medieval Wheelbarrow," Technology and Culture, Vol. 32, No. 2, Part 1. (Apr., 1991), pp. 356-364
  • Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 4, Physics and Physical Technology, Part 2, Mechanical Engineering. Taipei: Caves Books Ltd.
wheelbarrow in Arabic: عربة يدوية صغيرة
wheelbarrow in Czech: Kolečko
wheelbarrow in Danish: Trillebør
wheelbarrow in German: Schubkarre
wheelbarrow in Spanish: Carretilla
wheelbarrow in Esperanto: Ĉarumo
wheelbarrow in French: Brouette
wheelbarrow in Scottish Gaelic: Barra
wheelbarrow in Italian: Carriola
wheelbarrow in Latin: Pabo
wheelbarrow in Luxembourgish: Schubkar
wheelbarrow in Dutch: Kruiwagen
wheelbarrow in Dutch Low Saxon: Koare
wheelbarrow in Japanese: 手押し車
wheelbarrow in Polish: Taczka
wheelbarrow in Portuguese: Carrinho de mão
wheelbarrow in Simple English: Wheelbarrow
wheelbarrow in Silesian: Kara (wůzyk)
wheelbarrow in Finnish: Kottikärry
wheelbarrow in Swedish: Skottkärra
wheelbarrow in Turkish: El arabası
wheelbarrow in Vlaams: Kortwoagn
wheelbarrow in Chinese: 獨輪車
wheelbarrow in Slovak: Táčky
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