History of Casters: Developments and Latest Trends
What Are Casters?
A caster consists of a wheel mounted on a base. Rigid casters move in a straight line.
Throughout the history of casters, you can see many types of swivel casters, allowing the wheels to point in a different direction than the object they support. Casters allow heavy objects such as carts, pallets, tables, cabinets, and office chairs to move and change direction.
Parts of a Caster
The wheel, a crucial caster component, attaches to a fork, which connects to a swiveling mechanism. Typically, the swivel has ball bearings that allow the upper part of the fork to swivel relative to a component that anchors to the top plate or stem.
If the caster has a stem mount design, the stem anchors the elements of the caster together and fits into the furniture, pallet, or other anchor points. The caster's stem is the axis that it rotates around. Tightening the stem allows you to increase friction and resistance to rotation.
In a plate-mount design, the caster attaches to the top plate. The top plate distributes any forces acting on the caster over a larger area making it less likely that the caster will snap under extreme stress.
Thanks to inventors, there are many different types of caster designs constructed with various materials to increase durability. Everyone, from grocery store shoppers to multinational shipping companies, depends on casters to get their items from place to place.
The Caster’s Past, Present, and Future
The 2020s continue to move faster than any of the preceding decades, and 3D printing and other advances in manufacturing technology alter caster design and functionality.
Computers perform many logistical tasks at lightning speed in the modern age. As a result, the physical movement of objects is often a limiting factor in supply chain management. You can streamline business operations by taking advantage of the latest caster trends and understanding the history of casters.
In this article, we will explore the historical conditions that shaped the development of casters and their effects on business writ large. The historical development of the caster provides the foundation for appreciating the current role of casters and their implications for modern businesses in the age of e-commerce.
Casters in History
The wheel is a thousand-year-old driver of commerce and warfare.
Egyptian chariot makers attached wheels to the axles, which always faced in the same direction as the chariot. As a result, the chariot had to turn along with the wheels, increasing its turning radius and making it easier for enemy forces to overwhelm the chariots.
Rolling furniture was a modern convenience in the 19th century. Charles Darwin had a rolling office chair in the 1840s.
The year 1876 was a milestone in the history of casters. That year, David A. Fisher from Washington DC patented a design for an improved furniture caster that made it easier to steer a heavy object by pushing it on wheels.
The shape of Fisher’s caster causes the wheel to naturally trail behind the anchor point, keeping the wheel in line with the cart’s motion, which led to the casters being self-steering.
The innovation could not arrive at a better time. About a decade after the U.S. Civil War, the unified nation entered a Gilded Age that would lay the foundation for its rise to become a world superpower. Its vast size was the key to its wealth and a physical obstacle to overcome.
Railway lines and canals allowed businesses to spread their products across the nation. Additionally, business owners could order shipments via telegraph instantly, allowing them to coordinate shipments. Despite these advances, unloading cargo and delivering it to warehouses, stores, and other destinations took time.
At the same time, rising tensions between the working class and industrialists forced many companies to make concessions on workers' hours and wages. Having laborers haul cargo by hand or push it on unwieldy carts increases costs and the risk of workplace injuries. Workers must be able to push furniture and other heavy cargo safely.
Fast forward to the 1930s, when the world suffered under the Great Depression and stores across America struggled to convince shoppers to part with their money. The Humpty Dumpty grocery store chain became the first to offer its customers a grocery cart with swiveling wheels on casters. Shoppers now had a reason to do their shopping at Humpty Dumpty instead of the competition.
The shipping industry began to use pallets mounted on casters to move heavy loads. Improved efficiency helped businesses and the government move furniture, equipment, food, and supplies rapidly. Pallets with casters contributed to the logistics that enabled the Allied victory in World War II and the post-war recovery.
Milestones and Trends in Caster Development
Casters in the 19th century were functionally similar to the casters used today and consisted of similar components. However, improvements increase their durability and utility in several ways.
The roto-caster is an innovation that includes narrow rotating wheel-like structures within the wheel edge, facing perpendicular to wheel rotation. Roto-casters allow the wheel to slip sideways smoothly, without skidding.
Some modern casters feature a single attachment between the plate and the wheel instead of a fork surrounding the wheel. Other casters feature a spherical wheel rather than a disk-shaped or cylindrical one, allowing it to roll smoothly in every direction. New and emerging caster designs have many shapes and configurations.
Caster wheels must support large loads without cracking. Manufacturers used rubber for caster wheels going back to the 19th century. Since then, polyurethane and other synthetic polymers are now potential options. Heavy-duty casters can reliably support weights up to thousands of pounds.
Pneumatic wheels contain pressurized air instead of solid rubber or polymer. Air cushions the caster's load, minimizing damage due to impacts or movement over uneven surfaces.
V-groove wheels feature a groove along the midline of the wheel for industrial casters. The groove allows the wheel to run along a track, minimizing the risk of heavy loads going out of control in situations where loads travel along predetermined paths.
The metal components of casters must be durable enough to withstand loads without snapping or bending under strain. This is particularly true of screws, bolts, the fork, and the stem. Manufacturers must also be able to produce casters in large volumes and customize them to their customers’ unique needs.
Three-dimensional printing changed the history of casters by allowing designers and manufacturers to create customized devices on-demand at small scales. The ability to create casters onsite, along with bolts, bearings, and other components, allows technicians to make repairs without ordering spare parts. 3D printing allows businesses to adapt to parts failure and other unexpected events.
Dependable Casters at Caster Central
If you are running a business that needs to move heavy loads quickly and accurately, make sure you have the equipment you need to handle your logistics requirements safely and efficiently. Faulty casters cause problems such as:
- Shipment delays
- Workers compensation claims
- Negative consumer experiences and liability for injuries
- Decreased workplace morale
- Loss of inventory due to accidents
Caster Central sells casters, caster components, and other materials handling equipment. We are at the forefront of caster design and development and continue to be a part of the history of casters. Each caster series in our inventory meets the highest standards in quality, reliability, and performance.
To learn more about your options and discover how we can help you with your business logistics, call our team at (800) 445-4082 today.