ag inventions



Approx. 1803

Early American pioneers had only a sickle or scythe to cut their grain. Mostly, they were very simple tools. An addition that looked like wooden fingers and kept the grain flat until the end of the cutting swing, was added perhaps as early as 1803.

Hayrakes and Tedders


Hayrakes and tedders seem to have developed almost of themselves. Diligent research has failed to discover any reliable information on the invention of the hayrake, though a horserake was patented as early as 1818.

Mechanical Reapers

Approx. 1822

The first attempts to build a machine to cut grain were made in England and Scotland, several of them in the eighteenth century. The first recorded English patent for a mechanical reaper was issued to Joseph Boyce in 1799.

In 1822, school teacher Henry Ogle, invented a mechanical reaper, but the opposition of the laborers of the vicinity, who feared loss of employment, prevented Ogle from making any further innovations.
In 1826, Patrick Bell, a Presbyterian minister, who had been moved by the hard work of the harvesters on his father's farm in Argyllshire, made an attempt to lighten their labor. His reaper was pushed by horses; a reel brought the grain against blades which opened and closed like scissors, and a traveling canvas apron deposited the grain at one side. The inventor received a prize from the Highland and Agricultural Society of Edinburgh, and pictures and full descriptions of his invention were published.

Several models of this reaper were built in Great Britain, and it is said that four came to the United States, however, Bell's machine was never generally adopted.

Haying Machines


In 1822, Jeremiah Bailey, of Chester County, Pennsylvania, patented a horse-drawn machine with a revolving wheel with six scythes, used for haying and other cutting.
The haying machine was co-developed with the reaper. The basic idea in the reaper, the cutter-bar, became part of mower. Hazard Knowles, an employee of the Patent Office, invented the hinged cutter-bar, which could be lifted over an obstruction, but never patented the invention.

In 1844, William Ketchum of Buffalo, New York patented the first machine intended to cut hay only, and dozens of others followed. An improved mowing machine was patented by Lewis Miller of Canton, Ohio, in 1858.

Combined Harvester-Thresher


By the 1920s the steam traction engine was on it's way out, but it paved the way for the gasoline tractors that followed.

Although a "traveling thrasher" (or combined harvester-thresher) was patented as early as 1828, the first successful machine was built by Hiram Moore in 1834. Moore's combine successfully cut and threshed grain, although it had to be winnowed later. After the Civil War, big horse-drawn, ground-driven combines were developed in the wheat-growing regions of the Northwest. In 1871, B.F. Cook put a steam engine on a combine to drive the mechanism, decreasing the number of horses needed to pull the machine. In about 1886, California farmer George Berry built a combine around a steam traction engine and voilà: the first self-propelled combine.

Threshing Machines


The threshing floor, on which oxen or horses trampled out the grain, was still common in George Washington's time, though it had been largely succeeded by the flail. In Great Britain several threshing machines were devised in the eighteenth century, but none was particularly successful.
They were stationary, and it was necessary to bring the sheaves to them. One patent issued by the United States to Samuel Mulliken of Philadelphia, was for a threshing machine. The portable horse-powered treadmill invented in 1830 by Hiram and John Pitts of Winthrop, Maine, was coupled with a thresher, or "separator."
The horse-powered treadmill was later replaced by the traction engine tractor, which both transported the threshing machine from farm to farm, and when a destination was reached powered the thresher.

invention of the Seed Drills

Approx. 1840

Jethro Tull invented his seed drill and is perhaps the best known inventor of a mechanical planter.

definition: Seed drills sow seeds, before drills were invented seeding was done by hand.

Steam Engine

Approx. 1870

Until the end of the 18th century, American farmers relied primarily upon their own strong backs and arms and those of family members, hired men or slaves. New farm machines then being developed required more power, so oxen, horses and mules were pressed into service. Stationary steam engines were used early on to run cotton gins and mills. The additional power required by improved threshing machines led to the development of portable steam power, which made its first appearance in 1849.

At first, horses were used to haul portable steam engines from job to job. During the 1870s, several inventors developed practical drive systems and the self-propelled steam traction engine became common as power for the many threshing rigs around the country. Such machines were also used to pull multiple gangplows in the large fields of the wheat belt.


Approx. 1872

Cyrus McCormick had many competitors, and some of them were in the field with improved devices ahead of him, but he always held his own, either by buying up the patent for a real improvement, or else by requiring his staff to invent something to do the same work. Numerous new devices to improve the harvester were patented, but the most important was an automatic attachment to bind the sheaves with wire. This was patented in 1872, and Cyrus McCormick soon made it his own. The harvester seemed complete. One man drove the team, and the machine cut the grain, bound it in sheaves, and deposited them upon the ground.

The Self-Binding Harvester

Approx. 1880

The main complaint about the first harvesters were about the wire ties.When the wheat was threshed, bits of wire got into the straw, and were swallowed by the cattle; or else the bits of metal got among the wheat itself and gave out sparks in grinding, setting some mills on fire.
Two inventors, almost simultaneously, produced the remedy. Marquis Gorham, working for Cyrus McCormick, and John Appleby, whose invention was purchased by William Deering, one of McCormick's chief competitors, invented binders which used twine. By 1880, the self-binding harvester was complete.

Harvesters now needed the services of only two men, one to drive and the other to shock the bundles, and could reap twenty acres or more a day, tie the grain into bundles of uniform size, and dump them in piles of five ready to be shocked.

Grain must be separated from the straw and chaff.

Gasoline Tractor

Approx. 1892

Steam tractors required a lot of water and fuel (coal, wood or straw), and a trained engineer at the wheel. The internal combustion engine, developed in the 1890s, offered an alternative to steam. John Froehlich is generally credited with inventing the first successful tractor in 1892. The first commercially successful tractor was built in Charles City, Iowa, by Charles Hart and Charles Parr. Early tractors were big, heavy, awkward and none too reliable, but by 1920 the better ones had survived and were becoming hugely popular on American farms for heavy tillage and belt work.

Auto Truck


Machinery, critters and crops, among other heavy things, all need to be moved around the farm or to market. Two-wheeled carts sufficed for early farmers. Soon 4-wheeled wagons became the norm and were universally used for a couple of centuries. It's impossible to pin down the first motor truck, but steam-, electric- and gas-powered commercial vehicles made their appearance at about the turn of the 20th century and by 1910 were common in urban areas. The first real attempt to make a vehicle to replace the ubiquitous farm wagon was by International Harvester with its "Auto Wagon" introduced in 1907. Since that time farm trucks of all sizes have proliferated and today no self-respecting farmer is without his pickup.

General Purpose Tractor

Approx. 1920

During the 1920s, row-crop work such as planting and cultivating was still largely done by horses as tractors were too heavy and not versatile enough for those lighter jobs. Several lightweight row crop tractors had been tried, but most were not satisfactory. Several manufacturers offered motor cultivators during the 'teens, but few farmers were willing to buy a machine that was used only a month or two each year.

In 1924, IH introduced the Farmall, the first real general purpose tractor that could pull heavy tillage and harvesting machines as well as plant and cultivate row crops. The Farmall quickly caught on; by 1930, IH was churning out 200 Farmalls per day. Soon, every major tractor manufacturer offered a similar row crop machine. The swift mechanization of American farms that occurred during the late 1930s and early 1940s was on its way.

Hydraulic Implement Lift with Draft Control

Approx. 1927

The first tractor mechanical lift appeared in 1927, and a hydraulic lift in 1934. These lifts, however, were just that: lifts. They raised and then dropped the implement without the operator having to wrestle a hand lever but depth control still required frequent manipulation of a lever or crank.

Irishman Harry Ferguson can claim credit for the first hydraulic lift with automatic draft control. By 1933, he had perfected a way of attaching an implement to a tractor by three arms. The tension load on the lower arms and the compression load on the upper arm caused the "virtual hitch" point to be near the tractor's front axle, thus keeping the front end of the tractor on the ground. In addition, the top link compression load operated a hydraulic valve that caused the implement depth to be automatically regulated according to the draft needed to pull it.



Binders cut and bind corn. An addition shocks the corn and deposits it upon the ground. The shredder and husker removes the ears, husks them, and shreds shucks, stalks, and fodder. Power shellers separate grain and cobs more than a hundred times as rapidly as a pair of human hands could do.