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Inventing the Wheel

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In any story that takes place in Hollywood Prehistory, you're going to see someone invent the wheel. Common fodder for It Will Never Catch On. In almost all cases, the wheel in question will simply be a large freestanding disc, either carved out of rough stone or cut from a large log, occasionally with a short wooden axle. Expect little to no exploration for any actual applications for this marvelous new invention, as though the inventor was aiming for the concept of the wheel itself. Often the wheel is some shape other than round, indicating a work in progress.

Most examples of this trope are guilty of some form of Artistic License History and/or Anachronism Stew, since the wheel was invented later than most people think — around 6,000 years ago, just about at the border between prehistory and history proper. This is particularly evident when The Discovery of Fire is shown in the same setting, despite predating the wheel by at least 700,000 years in Real Life.

Nothing to do with Reinventing the Wheel.


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  • Used in a beer commercial once where a group of cavemen are going to be late to a party, then someone shows them their new invention, the wheel. Subverted in that the wheel makes things more difficult because they just use it as a tray to carry to beer on. To quote the cavemen: "Wheel Suck!"
  • Similarly, in a Volvic mineral water commercial, it looks like a Neanderthal just invented the wheel, but it turns out he invented something else.
  • There are a few Promotional Consideration spots for some patent company which shows B.C. caveman "accidentally" inventing the wheel, a unicycle, wheelbarrow...
  • From an advert for the Rockwheel on Australian radio station B105.
    "In the beginning, Man was dumb. He walked from A to B. Then one day he began to chip away at a rock, and created...the wheel. And he called this invention...the Rockwheel. Now he flies from (advertised holiday competition), and so can you! Just turn your dial from A to B...105.

    Audio Plays 
  • On The Firesign Theatre's album Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers, the host of a "this day in history" TV show claims that the wheel was invented by Mr. George Antrobus on the 38th of Cunegonde, 1938 BC. ("And just in time!" chirps his female co-host.)

    Comic Books 
  • In Jack Kirby's 2001: A Space Odyssey comic, one of the earlier issues credits the wheel to the intervention of the monolith. Only Kirby could draw a two-page Splash Panel about the invention of the wheel and make it epic.
  • Archie: A story about the Andrews family line shows Archie's Identical Grandfathers shows that Archie's furthest ancestor was the thrall of the man who invented the wheel. Which Og Andrews accidentally destroys, to his master's fury.
  • The Cartoon History of the Universe: The inventor of the wheel shows it to his friend, expectantly saying "Well?" His friend says "A tray with a hole? Maybe you should see the spiritual adviser..." Gonick also observes that the earliest wheels were more likely used for making pottery.
  • Monica's Gang: "The Cavern Clan" frequently has this show up. One such instance had a wheel being created, and then used as a dinner table instead.

    Comic Strips 
  • Thor invented the wheel in an early B.C.. Unfortunately, he couldn't work out what it was for. Eventually the girls saw him looking dejected, and decided to cycle over and see what was wrong...
  • The subject of several cartoons in The Far Side. Take these below for example:
    • "Early Test Drivers" features a caveman strapped to a giant stone wheel while several others prepare to push it off a hill.
    • Another sees a caveman sleeping in front of a stone wheel with a hungry sabertooth tiger walking up to him. The caption is "Thag Anderson becomes the first victim of sleeping at the wheel".
    • Three cavemen are holding food in the fire with their bare hands. Another dweebish-looking one wearing Nerd Glasses has put his food on a stick.
    Hey! Look what Zog do!
  • In the original The Moomins comics, the family get sent back in time and set to work as slaves in a quarry. Moominpappa invents the wheel and tells the other slaves it'll help them carry rocks... but since he doesn't explain how, they try to carry the wheel and the rocks at the same time.
    Slave: Rocks as heavy as before. New fat slave stupid.

    Film — Live-Action 

  • Averted in Eric:
    There are quite a lot of uses to which you can put a stone disc with a hole in the middle, and the Tezumen had explored all but one of them.
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's short story "Evening Conference with the Mr. Special Deputy", the alien ambassador reminisces on how his grandfather discovered the wheel on their planet, before revealing the horrible truth about humanity. Apparently, we are the slowest species to advance technologically, and most other races advance at warp speed, to the point where the ambassador offers to give us their ships, which have already become obsolete since they arrived a few weeks before.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    • The prehistoric-earth sequence in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe has both an inventing-the-wheel joke and an inventing-fire joke.
    • In the television adaptation, the wheel that the Golgafrinchans invent is multicoloured and octagonal.
    • There's also a brief remark about a race with dozens of arms, who invented aerosol deodorant before the wheel.
  • Averted in the Icerigger trilogy, set on a frozen planet where the natives skate more than they walk. Justified in that sleds, sleighs, and iceboats were invented and extensively used, whereas wheels would be useless in their ice-covered habitat.
  • In The Pyrates, the Mayincatec residents of the Lost City of Cohacgzln are waiting for a Great White God to arrive and teach them how to make wheels. Their massive step-pyramids are explained as piles of discarded wheel prototypes.
  • A Murderous Maths book featured an inventing-a-triangular-wheel joke.
  • David Macaulay's The Way Things Work, strangely enough, does not tell the story of how the wheel was invented. However, various wheel-based machines are described, many of them powered by woolly mammoths.
  • In the short story "Wiping Out" by Robert J. Sawyer, the narrator points out, "Out of the hundred billion human beings who have existed since the dawn of time, precisely two came up with the idea of the wheel. All the rest of us simply copied it from them." In one of Sawyer's WWW books, Webmind references the same fact while reflecting on the expression "no need to reinvent the wheel". He reckons that humanity might have been better off if we had reinvented the wheel a few times.

    Live-Action TV 
  • When Beakman's World tackled the wheel, they brought in the inventor: A caveman named Og.
  • In the first episode of Dinosaurs, a caveman triumphantly holds his new invention, a stone circle, over his head. Presumably it's the wheel — but no, it's the hula hoop.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Aztecs", the TARDIS crew take advantage of the fact that the Aztecs never never invented the wheel by using one to escape from the tomb. The Doctor takes the wheel with him to ensure the Aztecs don't discover it and change the course of history.
  • In one episode of Fraggle Rock, the Fraggles plan to use a flat, round object as a cover for a bucket of water. Wembley explains that the object is an invention of his: "I call it the wheel. It doesn't work, though — it just keeps rolling away!"
  • "Caveman Grover" invents the wheel in a Sesame Street skit about shapes. He and Biff are trying to get a heavy rock to the top of a hill. First he tries affixing square wheels, then triangular ones. He finally gets the shape right, and gets the rock to the top of the hill — but it gets away from them and rolls back down the hill, landing on top of Grover. He decides that his next invention will be the Band-Aid.
  • One of Krunk's inventions in You're Skitting Me was the wheel. As normal, he was told It Will Never Catch On and the wheel is pushed away, where it rolls downhill and kills a mammoth (off-screen).

  • In Allan Sherman's song "Good Advice", one of the pieces of good advice he offers is explaining to a caveman how to turn his big round thing made of stone with a hole in the centre into a wheel.


    Theme Parks 
  • The World of Motion ride that used to be at Epcot had a scene with three attempts at creating the wheel, one of which was the right one.

  • It was something of an underlying theme in the original BIONICLE saga that the characters knew what a wheel was (since they used clockwork-mechanisms and round disks on a grand scale), but they never thought they could fix it onto a cart or something — they instead slapped mechanical insect-legs on everything that didn't float. When a group of Toa came across an ancient warrior whose feet had been outfitted with wheels to form roller-skates, they began wondering why anyone would want to wear their gears on their feet. Despite the fact that many animals they were very familiar with had tank threads for legs, and that some Toa did in fact use chain-sawed roller-blades already...

    Video Games 
  • Done quite literally in Age of Empires.
    • And Civilization. In the fourth game at least, certain civilizations start with knowledge of the wheel, while other will have to research it.
  • In Star Control II, the short history of the Zoq-Fot-Pik includes the story of how their distant ancestors discovered the wheel, fire, and religion simultaneously: a Zoq was run over by a round, flat stone that had been knocked off a mountain and super-heated by a lightning strike, and the Fot and Pik assumed he had gone on to a better place, "presumably one without lethal flaming wheels".
  • Played with in Trog: During one of the scenes showing how the Trogs plan on killing and eating your dinosaurs, they do invent a wheel- but they intend on crushing your dinosaurs with it.


    Western Animation 
  • On Animaniacs, a caveman has just chiseled a wheel when Cave Buttons accidentally sets it rolling. The inventor seems surprised at how the wheel works, leading one to wonder what he had in mind.
  • In the Back to the Future animated series, Doc Brown goes to the prehistoric past and accidentally invents the wheel while he's trying to keep himself from using up the last of his brain waves due to an April Fool's Day joke played on him by his sons.
  • In The Big Knights, Sir Boris and Sir Morris travel back in time 4 million years to the invention of the wheel. Sir Morris "improves" it into a square, resulting in all the wheels in the present becoming square-shaped.
  • Classic Disney Shorts: In the Disney educational short "Donald and the Wheel", two "Spirits of Progress" (voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft and Max Smith of the Mellomen) try to convince a caveman version of Donald Duck to invent the wheel.
  • According to Darkwing Duck, one of his ancestors invented the wheel and used it to fight crime. Gosalyn pondered what the royalties for the wheel would be.
  • There were some hilarious, albeit ridiculous bad, attempts of inventing technology in a prehistoric episode of the British Dennis the Menace cartoon. Not only was there a very much non-round wheel, there were also about two attempts at what were supposed to be tanks... with the very much caveman notion of just pushing them off a cliff at the enemy, complete with loud smash as it hit the floor.
  • In the The Fairly OddParents! episode "The Past and the Furious", Cosmo and Wanda's first godchild was in the process of this until Timmy distracted him by introducing him to video games.
  • A Family Guy flashback had one of Peter's ancestors struggling to market his newly invented wheel. Cave-Brian solves the problem by having Cave-Lois stand next to the wheel while half-dressed, which suddenly makes the other cavemen want one.
    Ur-Peter: Everybody excited about trapezoid.
  • Played with in Futurama; instead of being in the past, it was so far in the future that people had forgotten about the wheel (everything hovered). Not only was it the wrong shape, but they also needed somebody to pull it, which turned out to be Fry, of course. Also they used a whip.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy shows two cavemen accidentally creating the wheel when a Jerkass caveman comes by, pushes them out of the way, and wears the heavy stone carving as a hat. The much younger Grim simply waits for him to get crushed by his new headgear.
  • Played with in a Histeria!! sketch where, following the invention of the wheel, we meet the invention of the wheel salesman (played by Loud Kiddington).
  • Parodied in Johnny Bravo: a prehistoric version of Carl is shown to invent fire and the wheel... and promptly tries to roast meat within the wheel, shortly after building a vehicle that sits atop four bonfires.
  • In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Tri-Stone Area" (in which everybody are cavepeople) Phinabunk and Gerb invents the wheel as their project of today. First they and their friends run around on top of the heavy stone wheels, but then they build a wagon.
  • In Rocky and Bullwinkle, during the "Missouri Mish-Mash" arc, it is revealed the the wheel was invented by the first person to ever wear the Kirwood Derby, a hat that makes its wearer the smartest person in the world.
  • Played with in the Schoolhouse Rock! short "My Hero Zero." We see the stereotypical caveman with chisel, but the stone doughnut he's working on is a zero, not a wheel.
  • In Super Mario World (1991), the Mario Brothers introduce cave people to wheels and, soon after, Flintstone-style cars. But thanks to the chaos of untrained drivers, followed by the wicked inspiration of Kooky Von Koopa, they discontinue the use of wheels entirely.
  • The "Leonardo da Vinci and His Fightin' Genius Time Commandos!" episode of The Tick included the "cavewoman who invented the wheel and whose name has been forgotten by history..."
    Mother of Invention: What is your name, my dear?
    Cavewoman: Wheel!

    Real Life 
  • We have them, so someone evidently did. However, there WERE cultures that never invented the wheel — generally Mesoamerican ones. These were cultures in which backbreaking weights had to be carried by either pack animals or, more likely, poor people. In past times this was taken as a sign of "primitiveness" or innate stupidity since the wheel is so profoundly simple. This view overlooks the fact that although the shape of the wheel is obvious, turning it into something useful requires a deeply non-obvious secondary invention: the axle. Manufacturing axles sturdy enough to use in carts is a significant engineering challenge, too. Modern historians have theorized that due to the rapidity with which evidence of wheeled carts appeared all over Eurasia around 3500 BC, they may well have been invented by a single person.
  • The Inca did invent the wheel — it has been found on children's toys. However due to the geography of where they lived they weren't feasible to use when transporting goods, pack animals (llamas) were better carrying them on the narrow mountain pathways than a cart would have been.
  • In the case of the Aztecs and everybody north of them, it was a lack of draft animals rather than mountainous terrain that made the wheel useless for transportation. The only two native American animals with any potential for hauling carts, the bison and the llama, each had problems. Bison are incredibly difficult to train, and llamas aren't easily adapted to environments outside their native mountains.
  • Some scholars have also pointed out that Native Americans didn't need to invent the wheel, because they had something just as good: the canoe! Why build roads for wheeled vehicles when you could use the continent's natural waterways to transport cargo? Evidence indicates that even four thousand years ago, Native Americans could canoe all the way from the Great Lakes to the Caribbean, forming a continent-spanning trade network.
  • On a somewhat similar note, the Japanese. Although wheels were well-known, in medieval times (during the Tokugawa era in particular) using wheels outside of religious purposes was significantly limited, further helped along by mountainous, rocky roads that made it impractical to use wheeled carts. Interestingly, during the earlier Nara and Heian eras, when much of the Japanese civilisation were confined into the plains of Kansai, and the winding narrow passes of Eastern Japan were just a foreign land populated by barbarians and hardy frontiersmen, ox-driven wheeled carts were used much more widely, especially by the city-dwelling aristocracy and their servants, while in the country the predecessors of the classic samurai mostly rode on horseback.
  • Any example of a "caveman" inventing the wheel is a case of artistic license, as the wheel was invented not by beetle-browed cave-dwelling nomads but by modern-looking, village-dwelling agriculturalists. In fact, the wheel was invented shortly before writing first emerged in Mesopotamia.
  • Likewise trading fire for the wheel, or both being invented during one lifetime. Fire was first controlled something around a million years ago (i.e., before we were actually human), and its use became widespread hundreds of thousands of years before the wheel. Check the "fire" article on The Other Wiki for details.