A barrow-load of history

If you thought that technical drawings were a modern invention, think again...

Cours complet d'agriculture (1793 edition)The Encyclopédie, compiled by Diderot and d’Alembert between the 1750s and 1770s, set a new standard for detailed illustrations of industrial operations and equipment. So it comes as no surprise that a French encyclopedia of agriculture, compiled in the next generation, should contain some very detailed engravings of agricultural buildings and equipment.

In the second volume of the Abbé Rozier’s Cours complet d’agriculture, 1793 edition, the entry for 'Brouette' is accompanied by a plate (facing p. 416) that is virtually a measured drawing for the construction of a wheelbarrow. (The measurement bar at bottom right applies to the lower figures, not the upper; and ignore fig. 6, which has come from a different article.) 

18th-century plate showing detailed design of a wheelbarrowI doubt that such a detailed visual explanation of how to construct a wheelbarrow had ever been issued previously. There may have been a good reason for this: Rozier says that the wheelbarrow was still 'unknown in the greater part of our southern provinces'. 

And so, in addition to a couple of pages explaining how to build one, he also takes time to outline the procedures for using it; you can tip out its contents in a moment, he says, particularly if you use your knee to help push it…

Rozier’s text attributes the invention of the wheelbarrow to Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). Pascal did many things, but inventing the wheelbarrow was not one of them. There is a very good illustration of a wheelbarrow in Georgius Agricola’s De re metallica (1556), for instance; but this is not a horticultural source. It may be that the wheelbarrow had been employed in quarrying and construction long before it was applied to the garden.

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