So yeah, it might be just a touch of hyperbole to say that the Wheelbarrow is the most important invention in the history of the world. But it DOES have a pretty cool history, not to mention a very RoShamBo current life. Wheelbarrows are being used not just for labor- there is a wheelbarrow olympics, wheelbarrow decorating events, wheelbarrow adventures AND extreme freestyle wheelbarrow!!! It pretty much does it all.
A short history.
The wheelbarrow history goes all the way back to 118 A.D or so in China. It was a tool used by farmers to get goods to market, by warriors to get to battle and be everyday people to transport people and what not. The early Chinese style wheelbarrow probably has a different design than you’re used to: it has a big wheel in the center, with the load over or around it - not like western wheelbarrows where the wheel sits out front. This early version puts the weight directly over the wheel and makes the barrow capable of carrying about 6X the weight of a western wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow could be considered the most efficient transport option over land, prior to the Industrial Revolution. It could take a load similar to that of a pack animal, yet it was powered by human labour and not prone to disobedience.
And then there were the Wind Powered Land Ships! Yes, the Chinese added sails to their wheelbarrows and made them even more useful. SAILING WHEELBARROWS!!!! WHAT????
If that’s not interesting enough, get this - while the wheelbarrow was big in China, it took a thousand years - literally 1000 years! - before the wheelbarrow makes it’s debut in the west! Insane.
For more on the truly fascinating history of the wheelbarrow, check out Low Tech Magazine’s awesome article How to Downsize a Transport Network: The Chinese Wheelbarrow
Competitions, Events and Adventures!
The Wheelbarrow somehow checks a whole bunch of boxes for RoShamBo-ness. It’s a very versatile tool!
Wheelbarrow Decoration Events
This is a bit of a thing in the UK. These are competitions where people decorate wheelbarrows with flowers, streamers, and what have you. LIke fancy dress, but for your barrow. If you’re interested, check out the RHS Cardiff Flower Show Wheelbarrow Competition, which, in 2017 had the theme was 'Myths and Legends'. Or in Sudbury, hit up Sudbury in Bloom.
If that’s not exciting enough for you, how about you go to hell! Hell’s Gate that is. “To Hell’s Gate on a Wheelbarrow” is an challenging wheelbarrow race - a 7 km through mud and up and down hills -held at the Hell’s Gate National Park, Naivasha in Kenya.
For the traditionalist, you have the Wheelbarrow Olympics! Held every year in Hosszúhetény a Village in Hungary. There are couple of races that go down: Singles, Doubles, Triples, Sandwich and “Speed and Skill tasks” Check out this cool animation that explains all the events. The event happens every May, so get ready for next year.
Extreme Freestyle Wheelbarrow
This is why you’re here right? This is pretty badass. Golden Boy!
What can top that? How about a lady walking the length of the earth from the tip of South America to the top of North America with a dog and a wheelbarrow??? The amazing Lucy Barnard + Wombat are doing just that! Follow them at Tangles and Tail.
And if you are convinced that you need a bad ass wheelbarrow, check out the Honey Badger