Who invented the Lever and Pulley? (Invention Timeline Explained)

When it comes to inventions over the years, perhaps the most overlooked are the simple machines — particularly the lever and pulley. Don’t let the title ‘simple machine’ fool you, as the lever and pulley have paved the way for so many structures of the modern world that it’s almost mind-boggling. It only makes sense to talk about its history, as well as its evolution throughout the years.

Who invented the lever and pulley?

The inventor of the lever and pulley is also the person who tried to make sense of how simple machines work — Archimedes of Syracuse. While the lever and pulley were likely used in some shape or form much earlier, it was Archimedes who applied the principles and finally made sense of its value.

The lever and pulley’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Egyptians
    The first recorded instances of both the lever and pulley

    The Egyptians truly were one of the most creative and innovative civilizations of ancient times. They were the first civilizations to use both the lever and pulley.

  • Mesopotamians
    Potentially used the compound pulley to hoist water

    Interestingly enough, the Mesopotamians were likely using the compound pulley to hoist water, well before Archimedes put the concept into proper principles.

  • Archimedes
    Developed the principles behind the lever and pulley

    Archimedes of Syracuse recognized and developed the principles behind the lever, pulley and screw. Particularly, Archimedes focused on the mechanical advantage of the lever.

When was the lever and pulley invented?

In the 3rd century BC, Archimedes developed the principles for simple machines, particularly the lever and pulley. For the lever, he once stated that if you give him a long enough lever with a fulcrum connected, he can lift the world.

A brief history of the lever and pulley

When you think about the most useful inventions of the modern world, it’s understandable to name the smartphone and various other electronics. However, it’s crucial to consider the importance of the simple machines behind the construction of the modern world. In fact, those thinking about simple machines like the lever and pulley probably expect it to be around for as long as recorded history. However, there’s a science behind each simple machine, and it certainly wasn’t easy for people to grasp its importance.

For example, the ancient Egyptians — as always — were known for the first recorded instances of both the lever and pulley. Considering just how much the Egyptian civilization had accomplished, they undoubtedly needed both simple machines (and a lot of time) to get the job done. The Mesopotamians are also credited for using the compound pulley to hoist water.

While there are earlier recorded instances, there’s a reason why Archimedes of Syracuse is considered the inventor of those simple machines. Not only did he stress the importance of the pulley and lever (alongside the screw), but he developed the formulas and principles behind it. Archimedes made it much easier for people to grasp the importance of the simple machine, and the formulas behind it made the pulley and lever timeless.

It’s gotten to the point where the compound pulley and the lever’s functions were effectively set in stone. You won’t find any big changes to the design, as there isn’t any need. For example, the compound pulley can be improved by adding more wheels for ease of use, but that’s already part of its overall function. As stated by the famous mathematician and inventor, if you give him a long enough lever and a fulcrum attached, he can lift the world. In many ways he did.

The lever and pulley timeline

  1. 1991-1802 BCE
    The first recorded instances of both the pulley and the lever

    The ancient Egyptians were known to use both types of simple machine. That said, there have also been instances of levers being used far earlier, but not in the same way as we know it.

  2. 1500
    The Mesopotamians and the compound pulley

    The innovative Mesopotamians were known to use the compound pulley to help hoist the water. 

  3. 260
    Archimedes develops the principles and math behind the most important simple machines

    The importance of the pulley and the lever can’t be understated, which is why Archimedes tried his best to put everything into paper. If not for Archimedes, it likely would have taken much longer to understand the science behind such simple machines, as well as its overall importance.

Where was the lever and pulley invented?

The principles behind the lever and pulley were developed by Archimedes in Syracuse, an ancient city in Italy.

The importance of the lever and pulley

  • The lever that lifts the world

    Archimedes stated that a large enough lever can lift the world. While seen as an exaggeration, there’s no denying that the science behind the lever and the pulley is sound. In many ways, the world has been elevated by the science behind the simple machines.

  • A surprisingly simple means of lifting heavy objects

    For the average person back in the day, it probably seemed impossible that such simple machines could potentially lift extremely heavy materials. Even some people in this day and age still have their mind blown by the science behind the lever and pulley. 

  • An invaluable contribution to society

    Without the simple application of the lever and pulley, it’s hard to imagine any civilization successfully building large structures. If not for the science behind these simple machines, technology likely would not have experienced so much progress.

  • The potential key behind physics

    The lever and pulley are classic examples of seemingly impossible tasks accomplished with a bit of science and mathematics. Accomplishing the seemingly impossible with science is why physics exists in the first place.  

The lever and pulley by the numbers

  • 2The number of components to create a lever. All you need is a sturdy board and a fulcrum, and you can get started. The lever is one of the simplest machines, yet also provides an invaluable contribution to ancient and modern society.
  • 3The parts of a pulley consist of a wheel, an axle, and a rope. All you need are three components and you can start lifting surprisingly heavy objects for little effort. It’s amazing to think such devices are so simple to build yet can accomplish so much
  • 1/2The amount of weight and force it takes to lift an object with a two-wheel pulley. The amount of force required to lift objects naturally becomes lesser the more wheels you have in a pulley.

Five facts about the lever and pulley

  • The human lever

    Did you know that the human body can act as levers and fulcrums? For example, when we kneel down to pick up an object, our bones act as levers, while the elbow acts as the fulcrum. 

  • The dawn of time

    It’s highly likely that people have been using levers since before recorded history. While the human body itself can act as a lever, people have been finding ways to use the simple machine since the dawn of time. Pulleys, on the other hand, needed a bit more time for people to develop.

  • Upwards and sideways

    Pulleys are well-known for helping lift objects upwards. However, it can also be built in a way that can pull heavy loads sideways. If not for these seemingly simple applications, it wouldn’t have been possible to build large structures.

  • More pulleys = less effort

    Pulleys, similar to levers, were invented to help lessen the amount of effort needed to lift objects. The more pulleys there are, the less effort you need to get objects from A to B. You can see how useful something like this can be for construction projects.

  • Business and pleasure

    Levers aren’t just used in matters of business and construction. The see-saw is a first class lever, built to keep kids (and let’s face it, adults too) entertained.

FAQ about the lever and pulley

  • How exactly were levers and pulleys used in ancient times?

    When it comes to the lever, it’s actually pretty fascinating. Levers have been used for all manner of applications, such as hurling spears, breaking fruit, balancing scales, and of course, construction. Pulleys were used as expected, as their primary use was to lift heavy objects. 

  • What are the most common types of pulleys today?

    While there are uncountable numbers of pulleys just about everywhere you look, there are a few notable examples. The elevator is the classic example of a pulley device, and you’ll find plenty of exercise equipment using pulleys as the primary device.

  • How often are levers and pulleys used?

    There are so many modern examples of levers and pulleys that it would take forever to list them all. In fact, even your body uses levers in some shape or form. Something as simple as picking something up off the ground uses the same physics as the lever. For the pulley, you likely wouldn’t see any large complex structure without the introduction of the simple machine.

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