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The first modern recorded patent on ball bearings was awarded to Philip Vaughan, a British inventor and ironmaster who created the first design for a ball bearing in Carmarthen in 1794. His was the first modern ball-bearing design, with the ball running along a groove in the axle assembly.
Bearings played a pivotal role in the nascent Industrial Revolution, allowing the new industrial machinery to operate efficiently. For example, they saw use for holding wheel and axle to greatly reduce friction over that of dragging an object by making the friction act over a shorter distance as the wheel turned.
The first plain and rolling-element bearings were wood closely followed by bronze. Over their history bearings have been made of many materials including ceramic, sapphire, glass, steel, bronze, other metals and plastic (e.g., nylon, polyoxymethylene, polytetrafluoroethylene, and UHMWPE) which are all used today.