Year of Invention: 25 B.C.
What Is It? A wheel fitted with paddles that converts water (stream) current
into mechanical circular motion to drive some industrial activity.
Who Invented It? Vitruvius (in Rome, Italy)
Waterwheels were the first human machine in which a natural force was controlled and converted into mechanical motion to power human land-based activity.
Waterpower, converted into mechanical energy by waterwheels, was the primary power source for grain mills, saw mills, leather works, textile mills and even blast furnaces for more than 1,500 years. Waterwheels provided the major source of civic and industrial power until the invention of the steam engine in the late 1700s.
The power to grind grain, saw wood, spin lathes or turn potters’ wheels always came from human and animal labor—as did the power needed for any industrial or production process.
Wind power helped moved ships at sea. But even ships relied far more on oars and human power than on wind, until the ninth or tenth centuries.
As villages expanded into towns and cities, the demand for mechanical power increased. However, until the waterwheel was invented, no alternatives to human and animal power existed.
The waterwheel emerged to meet two vital needs of early societies: grind grain and lift water for irrigation. In 100 B.C., grain grinding was by far the more pressing need.
Grain was ground between stones. Handfuls of grain were dropped into a large, concave stone and ground into flour with a second handheld stone. By 150 B.C., Greek millers had flattened and enlarged both stones. Workers pushed the top, moving the stone back and forth across the stationary bottom stone to grind the grains trapped between.