Ancient China Wheelbarrow

1,000 years ahead of Europeans, an ancient Chinese general named Jugo Liang invented a single-wheeled wheelbarrow to carry heavy objects.

Liang’s idea was referred to as the “wooden ox” and eventually called “the gliding horse.”

Our English word of “wheelbarrow” is derived from two words “wheel” for the method of movement, and “barrow” which is an Old English word “bearwe” that was a device used for load carrying.

The original version didn’t have handles. These were added later when the invention was refined.

The wheelbarrow was originally invented more for military use as transportation and mobile barricades, the wheelbarrow expanded into all forms of labor and farming, making jobs and tasks faster and easier.

Original wheelbarrow

The first wheelbarrow that was invented was made up of one large single wheel near or at the front of a platform.

An individual would place the load to be moved on the platform and then lift the heavy end and push the platform to the preferred location.

There might be a small basket added to carry the load, but if it was really heavy, another individual might be needed to pull from the front.

Wheelbarrow improvements

A second version of this original wheelbarrow was invented around 300 AD. It had a large wheel that was housed and a flat platform that projected from either side of the axle level.

This version could carry larger loads and even act as transportation for people. The loads were higher from the ground surface.

Later improvements added various handles and the sizes and lengths depended upon the size and load of the wheelbarrow itself.

This form eventually developed into the rickshaws that carried people and loads long distances.

Importance of the two types

As the ancient Chinese developed more sophisticated wheelbarrows for transportation, it became obvious that transporting long distances required a different device than that which just had to move something shorter distances.

The weight of the load was also an important factor on which type of wheelbarrow would work best.

Almost all of the wheelbarrows were made of wood with variations on the size, platform, and wheels.

Wind wheelbarrow

Over the years there were many additions and renovations made to the wheelbarrow. One of those was the wheelbarrow that had sails using the wind for propulsion.

Some of the historians don’t agree that this form of tool was actually a wheelbarrow, while others do agree.

Chinese versus European wheelbarrows

It is unknown exactly how the wheelbarrow invention moved from ancient China to Europe, but it may have been brought from Middle Eastern Arab traders that traveled the Silk Road, taking it later to Europe.
Construction Wheelbarrow
It’s thought that the Ancient Greeks used wheelbarrows for carrying heavy loads for much of their construction and possibly Ancient Romans for agriculture.

Western wheelbarrows were designed for short small load transportation. Ancient Chinese wheelbarrows had two designs that they used, however, a majority of their wheelbarrow inventions were for longer distances.

People in the Middle Ages of Europe had created a two-person handbarrow for the purposes of transporting sheaves of corn or stones for building.
Ancient Chinese Wheelbarrow

  • As the design of wheelbarrows progressed, so did the materials used. Wooden wheelbarrows were eventually replaced with durable metal frames and wooden wheels were replaced with durable rubber.
  • Modern wheelbarrows are made in a variety of sizes depending upon the purpose. They can carry from 150 lbs all the way to 500-600 lbs.
  • Wheelbarrows that were created by the ancient Chinese were depicted in stone carvings in many Chinese tombs. Some showed people pushing wheelbarrows while other showed the wheelbarrows being pulled by oxen.

Sail Assisted Wheelbarrow


What was the original purpose for the invention of the wheelbarrow?

military transportation

What nickname was given to the original wheelbarrows?

the gliding horse

What addition did the ancient Chinese make to the wheelbarrow that may have changed its invention classification?


Why did the ancient Chinese make two different types of wheelbarrows?

for distance and load amount

Did the original ancient Chinese wheelbarrows look similar to the ones that we use today?

no – no handles

What Chinese invention to move people was eventually created using the idea of the wheelbarrow?