The Rich History of Overhead Crane Systems

When it comes to lifting heavy loads, overhead crane systems are there to make things much easier for everyone. However, these marvels of modern times did not suddenly appear overnight. In fact, a gradual process of development has given us the helpful tools we enjoy today. Here is a look at this kind of equipment and where it came from.

What is an Overhead Crane System?

Commonly called bridge cranes, these devices are used to lift and move heavy materials. As opposed to mobile cranes, bridge cranes are designed to fit into the ceiling of a structure to allow lifting from overhead. They can be freestanding or attached to support beams.

The units consist of a mounting system (beams), lifting mechanism and some kind of track or runway for traveling. Power can be manual or electric. Cranes are not the same as hoists because they have the ability to move materials about on their tracks.


As far back as ancient times, man was using mechanical lifting devices to make life easier and enhance the technology of the day. The first overhead crane system may have been made of a rope or vine and man’s imagination. Think of the changes which came from throwing a rope around a high tree limb and using it to pull a large animal (freshly killed) to safety high in a tree. This could keep predators from stealing food and would make the difference between eating and starving.

Over the years, chains were created and employed for leverage lifting. Rope pulleys were used by the people of Mesopotamia more than three thousand years ago. This was an important innovation because the wheel eliminated most of the friction created by pulling a rope around a tree limb.

As pulleys evolved over the centuries, they movable and compounded (more than one pulley working together). This led to block and tackle configurations and pulleys could do a great deal of hard work.

Power Cranes

A company in Germany began making cranes in the year 1830. Within ten years overhead or bridge cranes were being made. By the mid 19th Century an improved wench mechanism made it possible to lift very heavy loads, thanks to the use of electric motors.

The first power crane was steam operated (1861) and then around 1876 the very first electric overhead crane system came into being in England. It served duties in the Royal Arsenal for lifting and moving armaments (naval guns). As the 21st Century dawned, electric cranes were being mass produced and providing a wide range of solutions for industry.

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