I gave simple machines a basic overview in my last blog. This time, I’m going to go more in-depth into the history of simple machines—specifically concerning ramps.
The ancient Greeks recognized three simple machines to start with: the lever, the screw, and the pulley. The man who came up with the idea, Archimedes, was a brilliant but crazy guy. Built crazy ancient super weapons to sink entire enemy fleets one day, then jury rigged an ancient precursor to calculus the next. He’s considered one of the greatest mathematicians of all time for a good reason. He’s the kind of dude who could have moved the world, if you gave him a long-enough lever.
The Greeks added two additional simple machines eventually, but they were still lacking the ramp somehow. (They didn’t know what they were missing out on.)
It actually wasn’t until after a millennia and a half after Archimedes that the inclined plane was finally included in the list. The fellow who did it? An eccentric but brilliant Dutchman named Simon Steven (an unfortunately boring name for a genius.) Simon Steven was another one of those nutty Renaissance-era polymaths who threw the curve for everyone else. Simon Steven was the first person to figure out the mechanical advantage of the inclined plane. He also invented a wind-powered land yacht that could outrace horses.
After Simon Steven completed the simple machine sextet, of course, the development of the science behind simple machines hardly stopped. Galileo Galilei, notably, was the first to figure out that they didn’t create energy but merely transformed it. Leonardo da Vinci also made some critical discoveries regarding calculating friction in simple machines; then he promptly left them unpublished in his notebooks. It took almost two hundred years for someone else to independently rediscover them.