The history of the wheel stretches as far back as 3500BC in Sumeria, present day Iraq. Whislt some ancient wonders, such as the Pyramids and Stonehenge, were created without the use of the wheel, so much more was possible with the advent of the technology. The wheel has been at the heart of land transport systems since those early days, as well as being used for pottery. It has been also been used, together with a ratcheting mechanism, in gearing systems since at least 200BC in North Africa.
The earliest wheels were made of wooden planks and struts but by 2500BC, in Central Asia, copper nails were being banged in to the circumference of the cart and chariot wheels to improve wear. Ancient times also saw the first use of strengthening iron tires placed around the rim of the wooden spoked wheels, a basic design feature that would be present right up to the 19th Century AD.
The next major advance occurred in the 1820s, when Walter Hancock invented what later became known as the artillery wheel. This was originally created to solve the problem of moving heavy steam-driven vehicles without snapping the wooden spokes, and featured solid wedges meeting in the middle, and with metal rather than wooden naves, a design later adopted for artillery pieces, hence the name. It was this design that was to be used in the first cars in the 1880s.
The twentieth century saw the use of increasingly sophisticated materials being used in car wheels. In the 1920s forged steel replaced wood, with solid sheets of steel being used from the 1930s. More recently aluminum and magnesium metal alloys have been introduced, being lighter and giving better performance than steel wheels, not least because of their better heat conductance. Aesthetically, many people also find alloy wheels more pleasing than hubcaps.