The Origin of the Wheelbarrow

The one-wheeled Chinese wheelbarrow, from Zhang Zeduan's (1085–1145) painting Along the River During Qingming Festival, Song Dynasty.

The first record of a wheelbarrow was designed in A.D. 200 by a general in the Chinese Imperial Army. Chuko Liang, felt the tool could be used to transport large quantities of military supplies along narrow embankments. Chuko’s device had a single wheel which measured about four feet in diameter. It had over a dozen spokes and the wheel was positioned so that the center of gravity from the load would be directly over the wheel axle.

General Liang’s Wheelbarrow

Historians have postulated that General Liang adapted the wheelbarrow from a smaller, two-wheeled handcart that was used in China for toting carrying rice and vegetables.

Two-wheeled handcarts were a familiar tool throughout the East and West as far back as 1000 B.C. These handcarts were the predecessors of the wheelbarrows that we are familiar with today. Liang took the two –wheeled hand cart and constructed the one-wheeled device that made it easier to transverse narrow trails. The Chinese wheelbarrow was also used to transport wounded and dead soldiers from battlefields. The wheelbarrow, in China, was modified to carry people and some were pulled by a donkey. The Chinese called their wheelbarrows, a “wooden ox” or a “gliding horse”.

Europeans and the Wheelbarrow

The Europeans brought the wheelbarrow into use during the middle ages. The European changed the design to move the wheel out in front. This meant that the load was supported, not only by the wheel but also by the pusher.

Many Historians believe that this invention was an adaptation of the Hod, a wooden basket suspended between two poles and carried I the front and in the back by up to four men. Somewhere around the twelfth century, an unknown inventor thought of the idea of replacing the leading carriers by a small single wheel. So was born the Western wheelbarrow.

Disadvantages of the European Wheelbarrow

However the European wheelbarrow was not as efficient as the Chinese prototype. Still even with all the disadvantages of the European wheelbarrow many great castles and cathedrals were built using the device to move supplies to the worksites. Looking at manuscripts from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, it is easy to find illustrations of wheelbarrows loaded with bricks, stones, and wood. Unfortunately with the European wheelbarrow a man had to lift a large portion of the load. This made it unsuited for carrying heavy burdens or burdens over long distances.

It was during the seventeenth century when trading with China picked up that the two distinct types of wheelbarrows collided into one. The Europeans returning from their trades in China had great and marvelous stories of the Chinese wheelbarrow. It wasn’t long after this that the Chinese wheelbarrow started to appear in Western countries.

Workers today who use wheelbarrows to move objects from one area to another probably do not realize the thought and struggle that went into the early wheelbarrows. Both the European and Chinese models are still both available today.


  1. Hooper. M. Everyday Inventions. Taplinger Publishing. Ohio. 1976