The spinning wheel is a very old tool and has often been important as a symbol. Among the best known is that of St. Elizabeth of Hungary who spun for the poor.

Wrongly associated, popular culture has linked the wheel to the tale of Sleeping Beauty. This error arose from the proliferation of illustrations showing the protagonist pricking herself with a hypothetical needle on a wheel. However, the wheel does not consist of any needle-like part. Originally, Sleeping Beauty was punctured with a spindle.

In India, the wheel is a symbol of the struggle against British imperialism. As part of his campaign of civil disobedience, Gandhi convinced his followers that the best way to attack the British Empire was not to buy Manchester's textile products and make the clothes themselves by hand. The campaign inspired many people and succeeded in peacefully hurting the interests of powerful colonialism, helping the peoples of India achieve independence. Thus, the wheel became one of the symbols of India's independence.

The wheel first appears in about 3000 BC.

The spindle spinning wheel arrived in Europe from the oriental region towards the end of the 12th century. It began to spread in Central Europe in the 13th century, as the source evidenced by prohibitions on the use of the spindle spinning wheel for the guilds associated with cloth making.

The following prohibitions are documented, for example: 1224 Venice, 1256 Bologna, 1268 Paris, 1280 Speyer, 1288 Abbeville, 1292 Siena, 1305 Douai. In the crafts regulations of the Weber von Speyer it is expressly permitted only for the production of yarn.

The reason for the restriction to yarn is controversial. The bans may have been enacted to protect the high quality of the wool yarn produced with a hand spindle. For example, the so-called Livre des metiers from Bruges (ca. 1349) states that wool spun with the spindle spinning wheel is generally too weak, uneven, insufficiently rolled and too knotty. The spindle spinning wheel remained banned for guild use in some regions until the 15th and 16th centuries.

The first pictorial proof of a (still hand-driven) spinning wheel dates back to 1480. The inventor of this completely new functionality of the spinning device is unknown. Leonardo da Vinci later designed a spinning mechanism with a longitudinal spinning wheel, which probably did not spread. A foot powered was developed in the middle of the 17th century.

The first mechanical spinning machines of the 18th century were used as templates for both of the above-powered spinning wheel systems. The slightly older Spinning Jenny is based on the two-stage settling technique of the simple spindle, while the spinning frame developed almost simultaneously used spinning wheels.

Even after the introduction of more modern spinning machines, the spinning wheel was still used in the domestic area and was not drive-out of style until the 19th century.

Even today, modern spinning wheels are being built and developed by numerous craft companies, mostly for the needs of leisure spinners. There are even electrically operated spinning "wheels" in which the pulling of the thread is still done by hand, while the flywheel is replaced by the electric drive. This spinning equipment are mainly used in small businesses.