Crane Usage Through the Ages

There is no doubt that you will have seen dozens of cranes within your lifetime and they have developed to become an integral part of everyday life. They have helped build the rooves of the houses that we live in, deliver the food and beverages that we eat and construct the transport systems that we use every day. Whether it’s the building of huge multi-story skyscrapers, or the simple placing of a motor engine into a car, cranes play a part in hundreds of different processes thanks to the innovation and invention of different styles, types, and functions of cranes. Below we take a look at a history of crane usage through the ages.

Where does the history of  crane usage begin?

We owe much of our modern way of workings to the ages that came before, and this is no different with crane usage. There is widespread evidence that shows that the earliest use of cranes dates back to Ancient Greece.

There were many large, heavy structures that were built before this, such as pyramids in Ancient Egypt which sometimes contained blocks weighing up to 50 tonnes, so ingenuity and intuitive were used before the Greek period. But this came in the form of devices such as ramps and levers, as opposed to cranes, and required a huge amount of manpower to operate; some historians estimated it could have been as many as 100,000 workers!

Cranes brought about the much-needed benefit of hugely reducing the amount of manpower needed, and the first cranes that appeared within the 6th and 5th centuries BC in Ancient Greece were commonly referred to as ‘pulleys’.

Other forms of pulleys were found before this, around the 8th and 9th centuries BC for simple tasks such as pulling water up from wells. They later found a greater use as a more mechanical piece of equipment as time went on.

The compound pulley

As with any invention, improvements were made and around the 4th century BC the compound pulley, a piece of equipment that is still in use even today, was invented. It consisted of several individual pulleys in a block and allowed for heavier lifting than was previously possible.

For example, a compound pulley that has five individual pulleys will allow you to lift five times the weight, but the only downside is that you have to pull the load five times the distance. A crane with three pulleys was called a ‘Trispastos’, and a crane with five pulleys was known as a ‘Pentaspostos’, which is recorded to have been able to lift around 3,000Kg with four men operating it. It was also recorded that if the winch was replaced with a treadwheel, it could instead lift 6,000Kg with just two men operating it.

crane usage

A treadwheel crane used in the Middle Ages

 The Ancient Romans, widely known for their grand structures such as coliseums and other buildings that we still see today, made many improvements on the crane equipment originally developed by the Ancient Greeks.

 Cranes in the Middle Ages

These developments were taken further in the Medieval period when the treadwheel became a vital part of construction, which had become much less widely used by the Romans, and its use lasted right up until the 1800s. These had a mechanical advantage of fourteen to one.

 The treadwheel cranes were commonly used for tasks such as harbour transport, mining and the construction of buildings, most notably with the Gothic cathedrals that were commonplace in the era.

 The Medieval period saw a large increase in crane usage throughout Europe, and much of the developments that were made through this period were due to the inventions that had come from the ages before.

 The modern day use of cranes

The Industrial Revolution saw the rapid development of cranes and how they were used. The increased production and manufacturing needs during this period also meant a new focus was placed on making cranes more efficient and effective.

 Sir William Armstrong invented what was the first hydraulic crane in the 1840s, and by the 1850s his company, W.G Armstrong & Company was manufacturing around 100 cranes per year. By 1863, this number increased to 3,800, showing the rapid development that occurred in this period.

 These hydraulic cranes led to the modern crane usage that we see today, from tall tower cranes down to smaller floor cranes. Thanks to cranes we now have some of the most spectacular buildings in the world, such as the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

crane usage

Cranes helped build the impressive Petronas Towers

Cranes Direct cranes

So, here at Cranes Direct, we can trace our history right back to Ancient Greece! We, of course, don’t use the same pieces of equipment that the Ancient Greeks did, and instead, have a range of reliable and efficient cranes in stock. Get in contact with us today for more information on the equipment that we can provide for you.


Image credits: Low Tech Magazine and Simon_Long

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