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An element e of a 3-connected matroid M is essential if neither the deletion M\e nor the contraction M/e is 3-connected. Tutte's Wheels and Whirls Theorem proves that the only 3-connected matroids in which every element is essential are the wheels and whirls. In this paper, we consider those 3-connected matroids that have some non-essential elements, showing that every such matroid M must have at least two such elements. We prove that the essential elements of M can be partitioned into classes where two elements are in the same class if M has a fan, a maximal partial wheel, containing both. We also prove that if an essential element e of M is in more than one fan, then that fan has three or five elements; in the latter case, e is in exactly three fans. Moreover, we show that if M has a fan with 2k or 2k + 1 elements for some k ≥ 2, then M can be obtained by sticking together a (k + 1)-spoked wheel and a certain 3-connected minor of M. The results proved here will be used elsewhere to completely determine all 3-connected matroids with exactly two non-essential elements. © 2000 Academic Press.

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European Journal of Combinatorics

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