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Updated on April 22, 2010
Photo by Benjamin Earwicker
Photo by Benjamin Earwicker

A sled is a wheelless vehicle chiefly used for traveling over snow or ice. It was originally used for transporting heavy objects from one place to another, but it now is commonly used for sport. The earliest sleds were in use in northern Europe, the Middle East, and Egypt long before wheeled vehicles were invented. In northern Europe, die most primitive sled probably was made of hide or bark and was used to haul killed animals over the grass, marsh, or snow. Vehicles widi runners were developed in Scandinavia as early as the Mesolithic Period. In ancient Egypt and Assyria, sliding vehicles with heavy runners were commonly used to move colossal statues, such as one of a winged bull. The Assyrians sometimes placed rollers under the sled and dragged the sled by means of ropes running through holes in the front and back of a runner. Outside the Old World, the North American Indians devised the toboggan, a flat runnerless sled first used for transporting game and supplies over the snow.

Simple sleds for transporting goods still are in use in such places as northern Asia, Lapland, Alaska, and Canada. In Lapland, reindeer are used to haul cargo loaded on a sled. In Alaska and the Yukon Territory', the sled is pulled by a team of huskies, which can haul a 1,000-pound (454-kg) load.

In the United States, sleds for sport were first made commercially in the 1870's or thereabouts, although homemade ones perhaps had been in use since the time of the Pilgrims. Most early sleds had rigid wooden or iron runners and could not be steered. By the 1890's the sled had been improved by incorporating movable steel runners that enabled one to steer to the left or right. Other improvements developed not long afterward included grooved runners to reduce sideways sliding and runners curved at the back to eliminate sharp protruding ends.


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