It is said that the ancient Central American Olmec culture invented the wheel for children’s toys but never made the jump to using it for transporting things. By today’s standards, such an important oversight seems difficult to imagine, but our modern society has its own versions of this story.
If you are a frequent traveler, you almost certainly have luggage with wheels. Compared to carrying your luggage, rolling it is a big advance. When did this advance occur?
From eBags’ Bagopedia:
Although the wheel dates back to pre-history, modern rolling luggage did not appear on the scene until around 1989. The story goes that Northwest airline pilot Bob Plath was tired of lugging his heavy overnight bag and flight bag through airports around the world. Being a creative kind of guy, Plath spent weekends working on a wheeled “pilot” bag in his garage. The new wheeled bag was an immediate success. Whenever and wherever Plath’s wheeled luggage rolled on the scene, everyone wanted one. Bob Plath’s company TravelPro was born and the rest is history. Before too long, TravelPro held 15 patents on a diverse line of rolling luggage. Other luggage companies quickly caught on and went wheeled.
“Alright,” you say, “our age of innovation didn’t notice this one obvious application of the wheel for a while, but surely it is an anomaly.”
No. I can testify to the next example, because our family is apparently an early adopter of the wheeled car seat: It’s like rollable luggage, except the “luggage” is your car seat, which attaches to a roller frame, like so:
The picture is the gogo Kidz Travelmate from GogoBabyz. I don’t know who the child is.
The scenario where a wheeled car seat applies is this: You are flying somewhere with a small child, and you will be driving at your destination. Normally, you would carry a car seat as a piece of luggage (or as carry-on if your child will be sitting in it on the plane). When added to the multitude of things you need to carry in support of a small child, a bulky car seat is not a welcome addition.
By adding the roller wheels to your car seat, you not only get the roller effect on the car seat, you can also roll your child in the seat. We have rolled our daughter through numerous airports, and similar to the story above about people stopping the roller bag inventor wherever he went, people always ask where we got it or comment on how clever an idea it is.
So, even today, a technology as fundamental as the wheel is still spinning-out new uses.