Bookwheel: the multiple-tabbed browser of the XVIth Century

There I Fixed It has an historical overview of the "bookwheel," a sixteenth-century book-desk combined with a water-wheel, which lets you easily rotate several books into your field of vision.

But imagine yourself back then attempting a research project. You want to learn about a topic from multiple sources and cross-reference each one. A desk with a scattered pile of books in no logical order with all sorts of bookmarks and notes trying to make sense of it all. Agostino Ramelli, an Italian engineer born in 1531 proposed a complex but intriguing solution to this problem; the bookwheel.

Based on the design of a waterwheel, the bookwheel would hold over a dozen separate titles, all sitting open at the same angle. Using either hand or foot controls, the reader could easily sort through the books he collected at ease without the fear of losing track of his place.

Historical Thursday: Agostino Ramelli’s Bookwheel (Thanks, Phead!)



  1. Dammit, I put too many books on my bookwheel and now it turns too slow. But if I take the books off I’ll lose my place GAAHHH THE FUTURE SUCKS I NEED A BIGGER BOOKWHEEL ALREADY

    1. Hmm…not sure if you’re joking…any reasonable gentleman would have a servant handy to operate the wheel.

      Perhaps you’re a young gentleman at University who cannot yet afford multiple full-time man-servants. (Touch the picture to enlarge the pic of my favourite, long-time manservant.)

  2. hmm, one each for ipad, iphone, macbook, other tablet, laptop, other laptop, other phone, car keys, microwave, coffee machine, baby changing station, crib, urinal

    perfect work @ home setup

  3. OK, what?  This is a poor solution to a problem that still exists today.  Fast indexing, search, retrieval and curation of information, acting on a solo basis.  Why not a lower-tech solution?  Have a room with book stands laid out in an arc.  The user stands in the middle of the arc and can move from one to the next with a clipboard to write down results of the various searches.  No matter how you slice it, this is a serial problem.  With one brain and one pair of eyeballs, there is no parallelism here.

  4. If these become popular, you know it’s the next thing they’ll start placing restrictions on:
    “Passengers, please refrain from using your bookwheel during takeoff and landing.”

  5. I used to work in a factory where there was a large computerized wheel that held and dispensed parts in the maintenance shop. Also it reminds me of the motorized  rotating jewelry cases I have seen in some stores since I was a child.

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