Farming and farm machinery have
continued to evolve. The threshing machine has given way to the combine,
usually a self-propelled unit that either picks up windrowed grain or cuts
and threshes it in one step. The grain binder has been replaced by the
swather which cuts the grain and lays it on the ground in windrows, allowing
it to dry before being harvested by a combine. Plows are not used nearly
as extensively as before, due in large part to the popularity of minimum
tillage to reduce soil erosion and conserve moisture. The disk harrow today
is more often used after harvesting to cut up the grain stubble left in
the field. Although seed drills are still used, the air seeder is becoming
more popular with farmers. Today's farm machinery allows farmers to cultivate
many more acres of land than the machines of yesterday.
In 1850, Edmund Quincy invented the corn picker.
Gin The cotton gin is a machine that
separates seeds, hulls and other unwanted materials from cotton after it
has been picked. Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin on March 14, 1794.
Mechanical cotton harvesters are
of two types: strippers and pickers.
Stripper harvesters strip the entire
plant of both open and unopened bolls, along with many leaves and stems.
The cotton gin is then used to remove unwanted material.
Picker machines, often called spindle-type
harvesters, remove the cotton from open bolls and leave the bur on the
plant. The spindles, which rotate on their axes at high speeds, are attached
to a drum that also turns, causing the spindles to penetrate the plants.
The cotton fibers are wrapped around the moistened spindles and then removed
by a special device called a doffer; the cotton is then delivered to a
large basket carried above the machine.
The first cotton harvester was patented
in the U.S. in 1850, but it was not until the 1940s that the machinery
was widely used.
Crop Rotation Growing the same crop repeatedly on the
same land eventually depletes the soil of different nutrients. Farmers avoided a
decrease in soil fertility by practicing crop rotation. Different plant crops
were planted in a regular sequence so that the leaching of the soil by a crop of
one kind of nutrient was followed by a plant crop that returned that nutrient to
the soil. Crop rotation was practiced in ancient Roman, African, and Asian
cultures. During the Middle Ages in Europe, a three-year crop rotation was practiced
by farmers rotating rye or winter wheat in year one, followed by spring oats or
barley in the second year, and followed by a third year of no crops.
In the 18th century, British agriculturalist
Charles Townshend aided the European agricultural revolution by popularizing a
four- year crop rotation with rotations of wheat, barley, turnips, and clover.
In the United States, George
Washington Carver brought his science of crop rotation to the farmers and
saved the farming resources of the south.
Cultivation Until the middle of the 19th century,
hay was cut by hand with sickles and scythes. In the 1860s early cutting
devices were developed that resembled those on reapers and binders; from
these came the modern array of fully mechanical mowers, crushers, windrowers,
field choppers, balers, and machines for pelletizing or wafering in the
The stationary baler or hay press
was invented in the 1850's and did not become popular until the 1870's.
The "pick up" baler or square baler was replaced by the round baler around
In 1936, a man named Innes, of Davenport,
Iowa, invented an automatic baler for hay. It tied bales with binder twine
using Appleby-type knotters from a John Deere grain binder. A Pennsylvania
Dutchman named Ed Nolt built his own baler, salvaging the twine knotters
from the Innes baler. Both balers did not work that well. According to The History of Twine,
patents pointed the way by 1939 to the mass production of the one-man automatic
hay baler. His balers and their imitators revolutionized hay and straw
harvest and created a twine demand beyond the wildest dreams of any twine
Further Reading: The
"The Age of Invention, A Chronicle of Mechanical Conquest" was
first published in 1921 by Holland Thompson. This chapter discusses the
evolution of inventions related to agriculture.
In 1879, Anna Baldwin patented a milking machine that replaced hand milking -
her milking machine was a vacuum device that connected to a hand pump. This is
one of the earliest American patents, however, it was not a successful invention.
Successful milking machines appeared around 1870.
Milking Machines by Richard Van Vleck The earliest devices for mechanical milking were tubes inserted in the
teats to force open the sphincter muscle, thus allowing the milk to flow. Wooden
tubes were used for this purpose, as well as feather quills. Skillfully made
tubes of pure silver, gutta percha, ivory, and bone were marketed in the
Patents During the last half of the 19th century, over 100 milking
devices were patented in the United States.
Plow John Deere invented the self-polishing
cast steel plow - an improvement over the iron plow.
Reaper In 1831, Cyrus H. McCormick developed
the first commercially successful reaper, a horse-drawn machine that harvested
Tractors The advent of tractors revolutionized
the agricultural industry.