Posted by James Briggs on June 28, 2000
In Reply to: Wheeler dealer posted by ESC on June 27, 2000
: : Does anyone know the origin of the phrase wheeler-dealer? Thanks!
: WHEELER DEALER - "In gaming houses of the 18th-century American West a big wheeler and dealer was a heavy bettor at cards and the roulette wheels. Through this tradition, and the association of a 'big wheel' as the man (or wheel) who makes the vehicle (things) run, the expression came to mean a big-time operator by the early 1940s, usually with an unsavory connotation, the 'wheeler dealer' being the type who runs over anything in his path with no regard for rules of the road." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Fact on File, New York, 1997)
If someone is said to be wheeling and dealing then they involved in setting up important arrangements, often involving money. Big wheel is a phrase use to describe an important person and this may be the basis of the saying. Much more likely however is a custom of the old Billingsgate fish market in London. The fish was wheeled in, prior to the dealing which could only start at a certain pre-determined time.
An alternative explanation comes from the US west where a big Wheeler and Dealer was a heavy better at cards and roulette wheels. I prefer the fish market version.