A Chinese Energy Saving Invention: The Wheelbarrow - "A Poor People's Taxi"

A turn-of-the-century wheelbarrow on display in SDCHM's permanent collection. Photo courtesy of Joseph Ho.
One artifact we have on exhibit in our permanent collection is a wooden wheelbarrow, dating between the late 1800s and early 1900s. Legend has it that Zhuge Liang諸葛亮, a military strategist for the state of Shu蜀國during the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280 C.E.) in China, invented the wheelbarrow in order to transport supplies to troops fighting high in the mountains. Although most modern day wheelbarrows have two wheels, a one-wheeled wheelbarrow, as found in our collection, worked much more efficiently on narrow mountain passages, and also was able to carry a greater amount of weight with the wheel being located directly under the load to be transported. So much weight in fact, that in China, wheelbarrows came to be known as “Poor Man’s Taxis.” This is because passengers often would sit on either side of the wheelbarrow to be transported by whoever was unlucky enough to be the wheelbarrow handler. 

A "poor people's taxi" in use around the turn of the century.
Here at SDCHM, we are not advocating for people to give up their cars in favor of being literally carted around the city (although many people do enjoy being carted around downtown in pedicabs), but we are advocating for other modern and earth-friendly methods of transportation and entertainment in general. Rather than drive ten minutes to a friends house, why not ride a bike there? Rather than hang out with that friend watching TV or playing video games, go ride a bike together instead? Bicycles, skateboards, scooters, and roller blades, etc., are all fun and energy and gas saving modes of transportation. One staff member at SDCHM even rides his bike seven miles to and from work almost every day, and he never has to worry about traffic or parking.

So please save some power, get out of the house, and go entertain yourself by riding a human muscle-powered vehicle today. Share on our Facebook Page what you enjoy about alternative modes of transportation. We would love to hear from you!

For information on great bicycle transportation routes, events, and resources around San Diego, check out the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition's website: http://www.sdcbc.org/. Thank you again, SDG&E, for making our energy-saving outreach efforts possible.


  1. I can not imagine this wheelbarrow can carry this number of people. :)
    Sack truck


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