A simple machine is a mechanical device that changes the direction or magnitude of a force. In general, a simple machine can be defined as one of the simplest mechanisms that provide mechanical advantage (also called leverage).
Usually the term refers to the six classical simple machines which were defined by Renaissance scientists:
A simple machine is an elementary device that has a specific movement (often called a mechanism), which can be combined with other devices and movements to form a machine. Thus simple machines are considered to be the "building blocks" of more complicated machines. This analytical view of machines as decomposable into simple machines first arose in the Renaissance as a neoclassical amplification of ancient Greek texts on technology, and is still a central part of engineering in today's age of applied science. For example, wheels, levers, and pulleys are all used in the mechanism of a bicycle. Between the simple machines and complex assemblies, several intermediate classes can be defined, which may be termed "compound machines" or "machine elements". The mechanical advantage of a compound machine is simply the product of the mechanical advantages of the simple machines of which it is composed.
Various authors have compiled lists of simple machines and machine elements, sometimes lumping them together under a single term such as "simple machines", "basic machines", "compound machines", or "machine elements"; the use of the term "simple machines" in this broader sense is a departure from the neoclassical sense of the six essential simple machines, which is why many authors prefer to avoid its use, preferring the other terms (such as "machine element"). In all cases, the theme of an analytical and synthetic connection from simple to compound to complex is at work. A page from a 1728 text by Ephraim Chambers (in the figure to the right) shows more machine elements. By the late 1800s, Franz Reuleaux identified hundreds of machine elements (calling them "simple machines"). Models of these devices can be found at Cornell University's KMODDL website.
A pulley is a wheel on an axle that is designed to support movement of a cable or belt along its circumference. Pulleys are used in a variety of ways to lift loads, apply forces, and to transmit power.
A pulley is also called a sheave or drum and may have a groove between two flanges around its circumference. The drive element of a pulley system can be a rope, cable, belt, or chain that runs over the pulley inside the groove.
Hero of Alexandria identified the pulley as one of six simple machines used to lift weights. Pulleys are assembled to form a block and tackle in order to provide mechanical advantage to apply large forces. Pulleys are also assembled as part of belt and chain drives in order to transmit power from one rotating shaft to another.