Tribology Milestones

500,000 to 50,000 B.C.

Friction fire: One of the most primitive ways of producing heat/fire was via friction. Fire can be created through friction by rapidly grinding pieces of solid burnable material (such as wood) against each other or a hard surface. Hand Drill, Two-Man Friction Drill, Fire Plough, Pump Fire Drill, Bow Drill, Fire piston, Flint and Steel are some of the friction fire methods. In this way, primitive men were the first to understand the concept of friction and utilize it to produce fire needed for their daily activities.

Friction Fire

8000 B.C.

Invention of Wheel: The invention of wheels helped vehicles to move along by transferring and reducing friction. The wheel was probably invented around 8,000 B.C. in Asia. The oldest known wheel found in an archaeological excavation is from Mesopotamia, and dates to around 3500 BC. This period was known as the Bronze Age.

Wheel Invention

2400 B.C.

The picture of transportation of an Egyptian statue to the grave of Tehuti-Hetep, El-Bersheh indicates the concept of lubrication was already used by ancient Egyptians. The picture depicts slaves are dragging a large statue along sand or ground. One man, standing on the sledge supporting the statue, pours a liquid (oil/water) as a lubricant in order to reduce friction between sledge and ground/sand.

Lubrication by Egyptians

1400 B.C.

Specimens of Egyptian Chariots from around 1400 B.C. are found with showed that Egyptians used animal fats (tallow) to lubricate chariot axels.

Lubrication of chariot axels


Leonardo Da Vinci was one of the first scholars to study friction systematically. His work on friction originated in studies of the rotational resistance of axles and the mechanics of screw threads. He focused on all kinds of friction and drew a distinction between sliding and rolling friction. At the end of the period (1493-1500) he was confident about the laws of friction, although the value (1/2, 1/3, ¼ and 1/8) he chose for the coefficient of friction varied considerably.

Leonardo da Vinci


The monumental work done by Sir Isaac Newton in his Principia from 1687 laid down the foundations of Viscosity and was able to bring out the concept of Newtonian and Non-Newtonian Fluids.

Sir Isaac Newton


John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744) became the first person to propose the adhesion concept of friction. He stated that friction is fundamentally caused by the force it takes to overcome adhesive forces or to breakdown adhesion.



French physicist Guillaume Amontons rediscovered the rules of friction after he studied dry sliding between two flat surfaces (Amontons, 1699). He postulated three laws which is only applicable to dry friction:

  1. The force of friction is directly proportional to the applied load. (Amontons’ 1st Law)
  2. The force of friction is independent of the apparent area of contact. (Amontons’ 2nd Law)
  3. Kinetic friction is independent of the sliding velocity. (Coulomb’s Law)

Guillaume Amontons


Charles-Augustin Coulomb (1736-1806) proposed that the frictional resistance of a rolling wheel or cylinder is proportional to the load P, and inversely proportional to the radius of the wheel. Coulomb’s description of rolling friction entirely neglected the material compliance.

Charles-Augustin Coulomb


John Harrison who was a self-educated English carpenter and clockmaker, invented caged roller bearing as part of his work on chronometers.


1886 Osborne Reynolds

In 1886 Professor Osborne Reynolds published his famous work – “On the Theory of Lubrication and Its Application to Mr. Beauchamp Tower’s Experiments, Including an Experimental Determination of the Viscosity of Olive Oil”. In this manuscript, the famous equation of thin fluid film flow in the narrow gap between two solids was formulated. This equation is the basis of the classical lubrication theory.

Osborne Reynolds


Richard Stribeck was a German scientist and engineer, living from 1861 to 1950, published the Stribeck curve, a plot that related friction with viscosity, speed and load.

Stribeck Curve


Philip Bowden and David Tabor gave a physical explanation for the laws of friction. They determined that the true area of contact is a very small percentage of the apparent contact area. The true contact area is formed by the asperities.

philip tabor and david tabor1966

The term tribology was mentioned for the first time in 1966 in the Jost Report, a study commissioned by the British government to investigate damage from wear. The committee headed by Peter Jost, estimated that application of basic principles of tribology could save the UK economy approx. ₤ 515 million per annum.

Joost Report


A committee of Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) formally defined Tribology as “the science and technology of interacting surfaces in relative motion and of related subjects and practices,” and it is an engineering field that deals with friction, wear, and lubrication.



A report published in West Germany revealed that the economic losses caused by friction & wear cost about DM 10 Billion per annum.

Friction Losses by Western Germany


The development of the Atomic Force Microscope, the most versatile and powerful microscopy technology, enabled scientists to study & understand friction at the atomic scale.

AFM tip

1980 Onwards

Development of bio-based lubricants generally made from a variety of vegetable oils, such as rapeseed, canola, sunflower, soybean and popularly known as bio-lubricant began.

Biological Lubricants

1990 Onwards

Development of Nanotribolgy (branch of tribology that studies friction, wear, adhesion and lubrication phenomena at the nanoscale) and Biotribology (the tribological phenomena occurring in either the human body or in animals) began.


Content combined by Harshvardhan Singh.


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  4. All the images used are from taken from google images “free to reuse with modification” category and from