10 Fun Facts About Cranes

Cranes have been around for a long time and are a staple of any construction site or cityscape. Cranes have come a long way from the first rudimentary see-saw-like machines of pre-biblical times to some of the huge multi-storey behemoths seen on large engineering projects in current times.

Such a ubiquitous and fundamental machine must surely be deserving of a small fact file, so in order to celebrate the crane’s enduring importance in humanity’s engineering projects, let’s take a look at a few fun crane facts (and a few not so fun ones).

  • The first cranes can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia.

Although the first records of cranes as we know them being used date back to Ancient Greece, around  500 BC, a simplistic version of the crane was already in use in ancient Mesopotamia around 3000 BC. This simple machine known as a Shaduf (or Shadoof) was a simple sea-saw-like structure made of wood and was used for irrigation. This invention is also known to have been used by the ancient Egyptians, circa 2000 BC.

  • The most weight lifted by a crane is 20,133 metric tons.

In 2008 China’s Taisun Gantry crane set a new World Record for the heaviest load lifted by a crane when it was used to lift a barge ballasted with water weighing a whopping 20,133 metric tons. 

The Taisun which has a safe working load of 20,000 metric tons (22,046 short tons) holds the record for the three heaviest lifts of all time: 20,133 metric tons, 17,100 tons and 14,000 tons, making it the world’s strongest crane.

  • In the mid to late 1800’s cranes were steam-powered.

Modern-day cranes are usually diesel-powered or electric powered. Our times are ushering in changes in technology to provide cleaner, fuel-efficient energy systems, but this wasn’t always the priority. The industrial revolution (spanning the mid-1700’s to the mid-1800’s) saw a global shift towards the mass production of just about anything that could be mass-produced. These times called for more efficient, powerful and automated machinery. In the mid 1800s we witnessed the appearance of the steam-powered crane, and many of these beautiful machines are still on display today at museums around the world.

  • Crane free-climbing is a ‘thing’.

One little known fun fact about cranes is that crane free climbing is a thing, although it probably shouldn’t be. For anyone not in the know, free climbing is the discipline of climbing without harnesses or safety equipment. In 2019 daredevil George King posted dizzying footage of himself climbing a monstrous 650 ft crane in London without any kind of safety equipment. For anyone considering following in his footsteps, it’s worth pointing out that free-climbing cranes is both illegal and incredibly dangerous.

  • The deadliest crane accident in history happened in Mecca in 2015.

And now for a not so fun fact about cranes: The deadliest crane accident in history occurred at 5.10 pm on September 11th 2015 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia when a crawler crane collapsed over the Masjid al-Haram killing 111 people and injuring 394 others.

At the time the mosque was densely populated as the city was undergoing preparations for the Hajj pilgrimage. The accident was attributed to a comb Masjid al-Haram kination of poor meteorological conditions (sand storms leading to strong gusts of wind and medium to heavy rain) and human error in not sufficiently securing the crane’s boom to withstand the 40 km/h gusts of wind.

  • The world’s biggest crane is called Big Carl.

Named after Carl Sarens, the director of global operations and technical solutions at Belgian crane manufacturer Sarens, ‘Big Carl’ is the world’s strongest land-based crane, able to carry 5,000 tonnes in a single lift thanks to a maximum load moment of 250,000 tonne-metres, according to manufacturer Sarens. 

Big Carl, currently residing in the UK and carrying out construction work on the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, is also the tallest lattice boom crane in the world,reaching a height of 250 metres when its main boom is fully extended to 160 metres and its jib is fully extended 100 metres.

  • Most crane accidents are caused by overloading.

And another ‘not so fun fact about cranes’: Although there is some spectacular footage of cranes crashing down in high winds, the most common cause of crane accidents is human  error and particularly overloading. 

The physics is fairly intuitive: the further away the weight is from the machine’s centre of gravity, the greater the force pulling the crane over (torque). Cranes use a system of counterweights on the opposite side of the machine in order to oppose this force, as well as ‘outriggers’, which are extendible supports that broaden the machine’s centre of gravity.

Cranes have load charts that detail the maximum load weight that can be manoeuvred by a crane with each type of operation and configuration, and most cranes have a number of safety features to avoid overloading. Even so, overloading remains the most common cause of crane accidents.

  • It takes over 43 days to dismantle one of the world’s tallest tower cranes. 

One of the world’s largest tower cranes is the Danish made Kroll K-10000 which is capable of lifting 120 tonnes (264,500 lb) at 82 m (269 ft) radius.

15 units of the K-10000 were built between 1976 and the late 1980s, many of which were put to use on nuclear power plant construction projects. Most of these cranes are still around today.

In April 2011 a 15 man crew from NCSG crane rigging and construction company in Canada undertook the dismantling project of a K10000 crawler crane. The project took 15 people  43 days to complete and required the creation of a precise emergency evacuation plan including drills.

  • How many types of cranes are there?

Ask the internet about this fun crane fact and prepare to find a host of different replies: mobile cranes, barge-mounted cranes, telescopic cranes, hydraulic cranes, gantry cranes, bridge cranes… It can get a bit confusing.

In reality, the answer depends on how you classify cranes: are you considering the base that a crane is mounted on, be it tracks, rails, wheels, a barge…? Is your classification based on whether a boom is telescopic or not? The one main classification that everyone can agree on is that there are mobile cranes and static cranes and different variations of these.

  • Cranes are named after the bird… or are they?

It is often said that the first appearance of the term crane appears in Greek and that the word γερανός represents both the machine and the type of bird that cranes are said to resemble. The internet is awash with debates on this issue, so we won’t make this a fun crane fact. A fun crane fact could be that other languages share this similarity. The Spanish word for both the machine and the bird is grúa. 

If you enjoyed our fun facts about cranes and feel compelled to hire one, get in touch with Emerson Cranes today.

Emerson provides a wide range of crane hire services and will be happy to advise you on the best machine to suit your project. Fun crane fact number 11: Emerson cranes provide a full range of crane hire services and operator training. To find out more, get in touch today!