ITEM: Ball bear­ings

IN­VENTED: 1794 USE: Rolling ob­jects

Popular Science - - SAND -

The Ro­mans, Greeks, Celts, and Chi­nese all in­de­pen­dently de­vised uses for these fric­tion-re­duc­ing mech­a­nisms as far back as 900 B.C. As did Leonardo da Vinci dur­ing the Re­nais­sance (see: heli­copter draw­ings). The first modern in­car­na­tion of ball bear­ings—a 1794 patent that showed how small orbs could spin in grooves be­tween an axle and wheel—was meant to make it eas­ier for horses to pull a car­riage. Seventy-five years later, a Parisian bike me­chanic placed them in the hub of a véloci­pede, help­ing a rider win one of the world’s first bi­cy­cle road races. Nearly ev­ery con­tem­po­rary ro­tat­ing ma­chine re­lies on bear­ings to re­duce rub­bing and keep things rolling: They al­low hard drives to spin disks, help the Mars rovers steer, and, yes, let your fid­get spin­ner whirl.

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