The earliest steam rollers were made in France in 1860. In England, a roller for use in India was built in 1863 and Thomas Aveling produced his first rollers in 1865. Experiments continued in England, France and the U.S.A. and by 1880, the familiar three-wheel form of steam roller had evolved. Many traction engine builders later took up roller manufacture, so similar were the products. Many rollers were directly owned by councils or contractors but there were also those bought by firms who hired them out. The first recorded hire of a steam roller dates back to 1865 in Paris and hiring grew to great proportions in England, giving rise to such large firms as Eddison's, Allen's and Buncombe's but always including smaller firms and owner-drivers. Throughout the 1930s, steam roller manufacture declined but did not die out in England until 1950 when some were supplied to India. Usage continued on a limited scale in some parts of the U.K. until the mid 1960s.
Internal combustion engined rollers date from about 1900 when a Paris contractor fitted a single cylinder oil engine into a special roller framework. Similar rollers were made by J.G. Allen & Co. of Belfast about 1902 and in 1904, Barford & Perkins of Peterborough made petrol rollers based on their well established range of horse-drawn rollers. Thos. Green of Leeds were making petrol rollers soon after.
Motor rollers developed on two distinct lines. Those with slow running single cylinder engines were made in large numbers by Aveling & Porter and Ruston & Hornsby amongst others. Other rollers with 'high-speed' engines ran on petrol or paraffin and Barford & Perkins, Wallis & Steevens and Thos. Green believed in this type. Later on diesel engines replaced the petrol or paraffin types. Designs never became stereotyped as did those of steam rollers. Combinations of engine position and types of final drive were numerous. The Second World War became a turning point in roller design, following which new or updated models were introduced by most manufacturers.