What is the one thing that allows vehicles to travel great distances at high speeds? What is the one thing that allows engines to turn with ease?
The ball bearing, envisioned by da Vinci and probably countless others, the practical ball bearing system was patented in 1791 by Philip Vaughn.
Ball bearings made World War One and Two possible. Before then war was limited to wind and wagon. It's all about the logistics of war, moving goods, troops, and weapontry to the front line.
Communication before the telegraph was also limited without bearings. The use of bearings will always be with us won't they?
Throw out 1791 if you will, bearings would have been invented anyway. They are one of those things that would have surfaced no matter what. Like boiling water in a pan, that fireproof container was bound to make it's appearance no matter what the odds. Be it ceramic, leather with a weight stone, copper, bronze, iron steel, even modern aluminum, a pot was bound to surface like wood floats on water.
Mankind's need for the ball bearing would have become so great that it would have been invented as sure as a transmission and a clockwork gear is ground.
What happens when you take a flat wooden bed, place metal axles underneath it at each end, affix wheels by a center hole to the axles, then load the bed down with a ton of goods?
Nothing! Push against the bed, maybe it moves on the wheels a foot or so, but for the most part the wagon is very uncooperative. There is too much friction between the axles and the hole at the center of the wheel. Even if you are able to push or pull the wagon with a 1000 horses the wheels and axles would quickly wear out. If only we could somehow make the joint between the axle and wheel turn easier without the friction.
How did the big rocks of Stonehenge get moved to where they are? Every inch of the way a set of round logs rolled between the ground and the rock, it was up to the people to take the log that rolled out the back to the front again. How about if we placed a set of "logs" between the axle and the round hole of the wheel? Arrange the logs in a circle so you didn't have to keep putting the log that came out back into the front, around and around the tiny logs would go inside the wheel's circular hole.
Well they call the wheel's circular hole a "race" and the round logs of our miniature Stonehenge rock are called "Bearings".
Push the wagon now, wow, is it ever easy. But it gets stuck in mud and on rough terrain, and the wheel's outer surface wear off easy too. Speed is somewhat limited, but the horses don't tire as easy as they used to. If only our roads were smooth as glass, and we could use burning wood to heat steam to power our wagon instead of using horses. After all we are trying to sell our goods, or we are trying to speed them to the front lines of our wars. Laying two iron rails on the ground at the same distance for miles on end gives our new wagon plenty of speed and distance, and the new steam engine we made using the bearings to make it run smoothly makes the whole thing worthwhile.
Steel bearings would have been invented no matter what. The train and it's steam engine probably would have been invented too. The invention of airplanes and autos would have surely followed. Rockets? probably invented by now too, but not as early if WWII hadn't have been. What might not have been invented? What is left now that hasn't been invented? What thing is there that surely will be invented, but to this day hasn't? There must be something, if it is important enough, if there is a need, then it will be invented. Perhaps we already use a new invention in a crude form, we don't realize it's potential, so as of today it remains un-used, no real need for it yet. The ball bearing has seen the light of day, what still remains in the shadows???
© 2008 Brian L Hughes