I was listening to the radio the other day and I heard an archeology piece on stone hand axes and the archeologist said that the hand axe was a universal tool to Stone Age man. My ears pricked up when I heard this and he went on to say that Paleolithic society couldn't function without the hand axe. Moreover, the extra productivity that the axe provided society was what allowed them some time other than that spent hunter-gathering. This downtime they used to develop their culture, art, language, customs, and may have been what gave some the time to consider domesticating animals and planting crops rather than hunter-gathering.
This fascinated me and I started to think if there may be other universal tools apart from the hand axe and the computer. After some though I think the wheel is a universal tool. I'm not just thinking of the vehicle wheel here, but really the whole axle and rotating wheel concept. Thus, you have the potter's wheel, the spinning wheel, the water wheel, the millstone, the cogwheel (and hence all sorts of machinery) and more recently the flywheel, and turbine.
From the archeology radio show the features of universality are that the tool be multi-functional, which the wheel fits, and that society can't function without the tool. So let's consider say the Victorian era without the wheel. There would be no trains or horse drawn carts and carriages. No delivery system really except for canal boats. There would be no industry, no textiles, no mining, no farming, no machinery of any sort. No clocks, no newspapers to report that the shops were running out of food and no way even to grind corn. Society would come to a complete standstill without the wheel.
So yes, the wheel is a universal tool. I've rewritten my introduction to include this material.