Simple machine  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A simple machine is a mechanical device that changes the direction or magnitude of a force.

In general, they can be defined as the simplest mechanisms that use mechanical advantage (also called leverage) to multiply force. A simple machine uses a single applied force to do work against a single load force. Ignoring friction losses, the work done on the load is equal to the work done by the applied force. They can be used to increase the amount of the output force, at the cost of a proportional decrease in the distance moved by the load. The ratio of the output to the input force is called the mechanical advantage.

Usually the term refers to the six classical simple machines which were defined by Renaissance scientists:

Simple machines are the elementary "building blocks" of which all more complicated machines (sometimes called "compound machines") are composed. For example, wheels, levers, and pulleys are all used in the mechanism of a bicycle. The mechanical advantage of a compound machine is just the product of the mechanical advantages of the simple machines of which it is composed.

Simple machines fall into two classes; those dependent on the vector resolution of forces (inclined plane, wedge, screw) and those in which there is an equilibrium of torques (lever, pulley, wheel).


The idea of a simple machine originated with the Greek philosopher Archimedes around the 3rd century BC, who studied the Archimedean simple machines: lever, pulley, and screw. He discovered the principle of mechanical advantage in the lever. Archimedes' famous remark with regard to the lever: "Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth." (Template:Lang-el) expresses his realization that there was no limit to the amount of force amplification that could be achieved by using mechanical advantage. Later Greek philosophers defined the classic five simple machines (excluding the inclined plane) and were able to roughly calculate their mechanical advantage. For example, Heron of Alexandria (ca. 10–75 AD) in his work Mechanics lists five mechanisms that can "set a load in motion"; lever, windlass, pulley, wedge, and screw, and describes their fabrication and uses. However the Greeks' understanding was limited to the statics of simple machines; the balance of forces, and did not include dynamics; the tradeoff between force and distance, or the concept of work.

During the Renaissance the dynamics of the Mechanical Powers, as the simple machines were called, began to be studied from the standpoint of how far they could lift a load, in addition to the force they could apply, leading eventually to the new concept of mechanical work. In 1586 Flemish engineer Simon Stevin derived the mechanical advantage of the inclined plane, and it was included with the other simple machines. The complete dynamic theory of simple machines was worked out by Italian scientist Galileo Galilei in 1600 in Le Meccaniche (On Mechanics), in which he showed the underlying mathematical similarity of the machines. He was the first to understand that simple machines do not create energy, only transform it.

The classic rules of sliding friction in machines were discovered by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), but remained unpublished in his notebooks. They were rediscovered by Guillaume Amontons (1699) and were further developed by Charles-Augustin de Coulomb (1785).

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Simple machine" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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