In pretty much every large town or city in the UK and around the world, there is a crane or piece of lifting equipment working away at building the next block of flats or skyscrapers. In order to reach these new heights in construction, lifting equipment plays a huge role, with most cranes today being able to comfortably pick up and move loads weighing 10-20 tonnes.
However, while they’re so often seen today as being pivotal in constructing taller buildings and structures, they are not a particularly new invention. For as long as we’ve needed to lift and move objects much too heavy to do with mere muscle power, there has been some form of lifting equipment to move it.
From the carved stone blocks of the great Egyptian pyramids to the great iron-wrought structures of the industrial revolution and beyond, lifting equipment has been essential. As a supplier of high-quality lifting equipment for hire, we’re always interested in learning more about our industry.
With this in mind, we decided to take a deep dive into the history of lifting equipment to better understand how this vital component in construction has allowed us to reach the heights we’ve built today.
Around the world, ancient monuments erected thousands of years ago still stand, built from stones that are unbelievably heavy. Here in the UK, arguably our most famous ancient structure is Stonehenge, a theorised religious site sat in the Wiltshire countryside made up of giant carve stones weighing between two and thirty tonnes.
These gigantic stones would have been difficult to move if they were to have been found at the site, but both types of stone are not native to the area. The smaller stones known as ‘bluestones’ are believed to have been moved over 250km away from their native lands in the Preseli Hills of South West Wales.
While archaeologists are not completely sure how these rocks were moved, it is agreed that it would have taken massive effort and some form of prehistoric sled, lever or hoist system to make the mammoth job of moving the stones a little easier.
While it isn’t completely known how the stones were moved at stonehenge due to a lack of records, there is evidence of some form of lifting equipment being used by the civilisations of antiquity.
The ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians were the first recorded people to have utilised basic crane-like pulley systems known as shadufs in order to extract water from rivers and irrigate dry and arid land.
While it is debated by scholars as to whether these cranes were used in the building of the pyramids, they were nevertheless an essential part of Egyptian life. This piece of ancient technology has managed to stand the test of time and is still used in areas of modern day India and Egypt.
The very first cranes recorded as being used for construction purposes can be credited to the ancient Greeks in around 500 B.C.E. These cranes were vital in helping the Greeks to construct their iconic temples and structures and were especially important for lifting the segments of their famous pillars into place. Holes that can be found throughout these buildings highlight the presence of early crane pulleys being used in their construction.
Aside from crane systems, other lifting ideas were tried and tested such as Archimedes’ Screw. This machine, allegedly invented by the Greek scientist Archimedes, consisted of a circular pipe with a helix shape inside and a handle at one end. The pipe was dipped into water and the handle was turned which span the helix and, in turn, lifted the water up the pipe. So successful was this invention, the screw is still used in modern technologies today.
However, like many of the inventions and ideas the Greeks came up with, the Romans adopted the use of cranes for their own construction needs. Looking to build larger monuments, they improved the single pulley idea, creating superior models such as the compound pulley and triple pulley (trispastos). These improvements significantly increased what is known as a machine’s ‘mechanical advantage’ which measures how much it can multiply an input force into an output force.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Northern European societies began filling the power vacuum during the middle ages and, with their growth, came an increase of large structures. Unfortunately, due to a severe loss of knowledge after the Roman Empire was decimated, many of the pulley and winch systems designed by them were lost for over 800 years.
This ran up until around the 12th century where records of pulleys and winches began to prop up. Later, in the 14th century, a machine known as a treadmill began to be used throughout Europe. Although it was first invented around 200 B.C.E, the treadwheel finally made a comeback and was essential in helping to build Europe’s large castle’s and looming Gothic churches and cathedrals.
Although technology did take a step back during this time, innovations were still made during this period, as stationary harbour cranes were designed to more efficiently lift goods off of ships. First used by the burgeoning maritime trade giants, Holland, these cranes would become commonplace in harbour cities throughout Europe.
As the UK and to a lesser extent the rest of the world began to enter the industrial revolution, cranes played an increasingly important part in society. As maritime trade grew, harborsides became hubs of commerce and trade. To make loading and unloading even easier, harbour cranes were improved to allow a significantly improved level of horizontal movement. Safety mechanisms were also added by the 18th century in order to minimise the risk of loads falling on people below.
However, it would be the invention of the steam-powered crane that would revolutionise the industry. Rather than relying on human power, using steam meant that any load could be lifted at any speed as long as the engine powering it was capable. This, combined with iron bodies and wire ropes, turbocharged industry and helped the UK and its European neighbours to dominate trade across the world.
Today, cranes and lifting equipment are used across a huge range of industries. Arguably the most iconic modern lifting machinery is the tower crane. These giant structures can reach over 260 feet and are used in constructing tall buildings.
However, lifting equipment goes further than cranes. Hoists and winches come in a range of sizes and styles from large-scale electric models used in the maritime industry to portable winches connected to vehicles to help move debris from busy roads. While the basic physics of a pulley system remains the same, we have managed to push innovations to new heights, ensuring that hoists, winches and cranes remain a vital part of modern industry.
As you can see, lifting equipment has been hugely important not only to modern day industries but to construction throughout the whole of human history. As professional suppliers of quality lifting equipment, we’re proud to be a part of such a storied history and to offer our services to customers throughout Manchester and the North West of England.
Since opening our doors in 1989, we have cemented ourselves as one of the leading crane hire and lifting equipment services in the North. Offering everything from crane hire to hot tub lifting, our qualified team is on hand to ensure that you’re completely happy with our services.
Crane hire and plant relocation can sometimes be a tricky issue, but with Armquest, you can rest assured you’re in the best of hands. If you would like to learn more about how our team of experts can help you with your next project, get in touch with one of our advisors on 01617 278 578, or visit our website for more information.