What is a Wheelbarrow?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 March 2020
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A wheelbarrow is a small, hand-propelled cart designed to carry moderately sized loads. Its structure distributes the weight of comparatively heavy loads, allowing an operator to move loads that would be impossible to lift or maneuver without some type of assistive device. Wheelbarrows can be seen on construction sites and in gardens, among many other places, and most hardware suppliers stock them in a variety of shapes and sizes.

The basic design of the wheelbarrow has not changed very much over the centuries. It is made up of a deep tray or platform mounted on lightweight frame. One end of the frame has one or two wheels, while the other end has legs and a set of handles. When the wheelbarrow is in a resting position, the legs keep it upright; when it's in motion, the user lifts the legs up with the handles and pushes or pulls the load, with most of the weight balanced on the wheel rather than in the hands of the operator.

There is some dispute as to who invented the wheelbarrow. Archaeological evidence suggests that it was used in Ancient Greece as early as the fourth century BCE, and adopted by the Romans. Some people claim that the Chinese invented the device, however, although the earliest one known to have existed in China dates to around the first century BCE. It is entirely possible that both cultures came up with the idea independently, in which case both could share the fame.


The wheelbarrow is such an iconic garden tool that it has even been immortalized in a famous William Carlos Williams poem, in which the author muses on a red one in his distinctive minimalistic style. In addition to being subjects of poetry, wheelbarrows are also extremely useful. Most are lined so that they can carry wet or dry goods, and those used for gardening may have especially broad wheels so that they do not damage lawns. Gardeners can use one carry dirt, plants, paving stones, cut brush, weeds, and a wide variety of other things, and some gardeners keep several sizes for various tasks.

In construction, the wheelbarrow is also a very useful tool, and evidence suggests that it was probably originally devised for carrying heavy construction materials like bricks, broad beams, cement, and quarried rock. It can also be used to transport wet concrete, construction debris, and an assortment of other items; typically, if it will fit into a wheelbarrow, it can be moved with it, although really heavy items might require the work of two people.


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Post 5

My husband and I couldn't afford to buy a wheelbarrow when we first got married, so I was thrilled when my sister-in-law gave us one as a wedding gift. We rented a place with a large yard and lots of trees, so I desperately needed a wheelbarrow for hauling fallen branches.

Before we mow the lawn, we have to walk all over the yard and pick up big sticks. The wheelbarrow makes this an easy task. Instead of having to pick up all that our hands can hold and walk over to the dumping pile over and over, we can get all of the sticks into the wheelbarrow and just take the one load to the pile.

Post 4

@kylee07drg – That's why I bought a two wheel wheelbarrow. The extra support balances everything out, and I haven't had a spill yet.

I have a pile of rich dirt that I sometimes use to enrich my garden. I shovel this dirt into the wheelbarrow and take it to the garden, and I have to be careful not to get it too full, because dirt weighs a lot more than you would think.

With my old one wheel wheelbarrow, I had a couple of dirt spills when rounding corners. Now, I don't have to worry about that.

Post 3

I had a plastic wheelbarrow to play outdoors with as a child. My parents were always doing yard work, and I wanted to help. They thought it would be cute for me to have my own little pink wheelbarrow.

I really did pick up sticks and small bits of debris and cart them to the burn pile. I even helped gather pine straw for mulch and carted it to various locations around the yard.

I think that this early yard work experience fostered a love of gardening, because today, I am using a full-size wheelbarrow to do the same things on a larger scale. I'm glad that my parents started me out young!

Post 2

My dad used to use an industrial wheelbarrow to haul heavy things around. I remember the time that he removed the basketball goal post from the backyard. He had to break up the concrete at the base with an ax, and then, we had to cart it away.

Without the wheelbarrow, this would have been quite a task. The chunks of concrete were heavy, and though I could help lift them and put them in the wheelbarrow, I could not lift the handles and push it around once it was full. My dad had to maneuver it around the yard, and even with his strength, the thing nearly toppled over a couple of times.

That's the thing about wheelbarrows. They are very handy, but they can easily get off balance and tip over.

Post 1

How was the wheelbarrow made?

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