Thursday, August 25, 2011

Early Farming (and other) Tools From Days Gone By

Every-so-often I receive an e-mail asking if I have any information on early farming tools. I have some but not as much as I'd like to have. I'd like to present here a *very* basic overview of some of the information I have on the subject. Most of the photos were taken at The Henry Ford Museum.
I suppose this could be a sort of beginner's guide.
I am continuously adding to this posting so make sure you check back every-so-often.

Let's start with the plow, which to me, is most important since without it very little would grow. The plow breaks up and turns over the soil to make it smoother for planting. It is one of the oldest of farming tools.
There are numerous types of plows but the most popular seemed to be the various mold-board plows. The mold-board is the part that lifts and turns the dirt. The earlier mold-boards were made of wood, but by the mid-to-late 19th century cast iron or steel became the chosen style.
The one pictured here is from 1775 and is of wood.

A plow from the 1880's in action

Henry Ford once commented that children knew more about wars than about harrows, even though harrows did more to build this country than wars. It was after plowing that the farmer would use the harrow to further spread and even out the dirt for planting.
This particular horse-drawn harrow was known as the spike-tooth harrow and was built in the late 19th century.

The spiked-tooth harrow in action

This next old-time farming tool is the horse-drawn corn planter. It was a two man job to work this piece of equipment, one man to drive the horses and the other to work the seed dropping lever. This is from 1875.

This one-horse grain drill, from around 1870, distributed seeds quickly and evenly and then covered them over. A vast improvement over spreading the seeds by hand.

Now here is a very important time-saving device: the cotton gin. The "modern" version of the cotton gin was invented by Eli Whitney back in 1793, which mechanized the cleaning of cotton. Cotton had formerly required considerable labor to clean and separate the fibers from the seeds; the cotton gin revolutionized the process. Mr. Whitney introduced a set of teeth in his cotton gin to comb out the cotton and separate the seeds.
His invention changed society in more ways than one might imagine -
According to the Eli Whitney Museum site:
Whitney (who died in 1825) could not have foreseen the ways in which his invention would change society for the worse. The most significant of these was the growth of slavery. While it was true that the cotton gin reduced the labor of removing seeds, it did not reduce the need for slaves to grow and pick the cotton. In fact, the opposite occurred. Cotton growing became so profitable for the planters that it greatly increased their demand for both land and slave labor. In 1790 there were six slave states; in 1860 there were 15. From 1790 until Congress banned the importation of slaves from Africa in 1808, Southerners imported 80,000 Africans. By 1860 approximately one in three Southerners was a slave.
The invention of the cotton gin is frequently cited as one of the ultimate causes of the American Civil War.
The cotton gin pictured here is not Eli Whitney's but, rather, one from 1820 and was significantly improved over Whitney's.

Well, here's a handy tool that no farmer of 1840 should've been without: an all-in-one cotton gin, carding, and spinning machine. The ginning mechanism removed the seeds from the cotton while the carding and spinning mechanisms spun the cotton fibers into thread and wound them onto bobbins.

A flail is an agricultural tool used for threshing to separate grains from their husks.
It is usually made from two or more large sticks attached by a short chain or strip of leather; one stick is held and swung, causing the other to strike a pile of grain, loosening the husks. The precise dimensions and shape of flails were determined by generations of farmers to suit the particular grain they were harvesting.

Flail from the mid-1800’s.
With a flail, one man could thresh 7 bushels of wheat, 8 of rye, 15 of barley, 18 of oats, or 20 of buckwheat in a day.
The flail remained the principal method of threshing until the mid-19th century, when mechanical threshers became widespread.

 From the year of 1840 we have a small threshing machine. As with the flail, threshing was the process by which grains, like wheat and oats, were removed from the rest of the plant...without the manual-labored flail.

Threshing machines mechanically knocked the grain off the straw instead of the hand-held flail, which was a device that took much more time and effort.

By the late 19th century there were steam powered threshing machines, at a much greater cost of course. Since most farmers could not afford to purchase a thresher, a group of farmers would pool together and the thresher's owner would visit each farm and thresh...for a price.~This photo of the Moss Family Threshing Bee was taken in the late 19th century right in my hometown of Eastpointe, Michigan. The farmhouse is still in owned by the descendants~

A 1904 Westinghouse Threshing Machine
Here is a first-hand account of what it was like on the farm during threshing during the later part of the 19th century:
"Later in the week when the threshing crew arrived, it was bedlam. The enormous ungainly machine clanked up the lane, pulled into the field by a team of six mules. The steam engine was fired up with a clatter you could hear all of the way up at the big house and seemed to shake the shingles on its roof. Men were feeding the sheaves into its hungry maw, while more men were filling bags with the stream of kernels it disgorged, tying them, loading the wagons and driving them, heavy, to the granary, where still another crew was waiting to unload and stack the bulging sacks.
Harriet recruited women to help her in the kitchen. An enormous breakfast and an equally large noontime dinner had to be produced. I rolled up my sleeves to do my share. The kitchen and summer kitchen throbbed with heat from the cook stoves. Dishes clattered. Hurrying bodies bumped into one another as we carried platters to and fro. By evening every muscle was screaming ‘no-no-more,’ aware the ordeal would have to begin again at dawn the following day.
And then it was over. The threshing crew moved on to the next farm, the extra hands paid off. There was quiet and satisfaction of knowing we had made a good crop."
The farm wagon was of utmost importance in transporting the harvest to market. This high-sided wagon was used mainly for shucked corn.

One of the most well-known early farm and household tools that is rarely used in the U.S. today is the scythe. Considered in our modern times as an accessory for horror movies or Hallowe'en costumes (the Grim Reaper or the 4th of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse comes to mind), this all important tool was used for cutting (or reaping) grain, stalks, grass and other crops.

And here is the scythe "at work"

The grass sickle below was typically used for harvesting cereal crops or cutting grass for hay. The inside of the curve is the cutting edge, and is serrated. The farm-hand swings the blade against the base of the crop, cutting through the stems with a sawing action.
Grass sickle from about 1850

The following is another grass-cutting implement, the Grass Hook. However, instead of dragging it across the grass in sharp strokes as the scythe, the grass hook is swung back and forth.

The grass hook
As you can see, the grass hook does its job well.

The corn-sheller certainly saved an enormous amount of time and labor. The spiked disk was turned by a hand crank while an ear of corn was pressed against the spikes. Shelled kernels dropped into a container, and, the empty cob was tossed aside. Next, the picker wheel was enclosed in a housing which channeled the ear through the machine, greatly speeding up the process. Cobs and kernels fell to the bottom together in these early machines, requiring extra work to separate the two after shelling. This problem was remedied in the 1840's by a design which expelled the cob out the side of the machine while the kernels dropped out the bottom. The one showed here is from around 1860.

For ions the farmer had to reap his readied harvest physically by way of back-breaking labor. Hand reaping is done by various means, including plucking the ears of grains directly by hand or cutting the grain stalks with a sickle, scythe, or cradle.
Cyrus McCormick of Virginia was responsible for liberating farmers from this demanding and exhausting chore with his invention of the mechanical reaper in 1831. It cut the standing grain and swept it into a platform from which it was raked off into piles by a man walking alongside. It could harvest more grain than five men using the earlier tools.
McCormick moved to Chicago, built a reaper factory, and founded what eventually became the International Harvest Company.
The mechanical reaper shown here, from 1850, is nearly identical to the one he had displayed at the London Crystal Palace in 1851.

Nest we have a self-raking reaper. Self-raking reapers were a step between reapers and binders, cutting the grain and preparing it for hand binding and tying. A rotating reel on this reaper drew the uncut grain into the cutting mechanism then deposited the cut grain onto the platform. A rake regularly swept the platform depositing the cut grain on the ground.
This horse-powered self-raking reaper was built around 1876 by the D.S. Morgan and Company
Here is a 1876 Johnston self-raking reaper mower in action

I find old farming implements and tools fascinating. I like to think, as Henry Ford did, that tools such as what's shown here should be taught in school history lessons right along side the teaching of war and politics. It's unfortunate that these implements of necessity, and those who used them, are just a passing footnote in American history.

Now, here are a few other tools used "in the old days" that few in today's society know what they are.
For instance, have you ever heard of a Hallow Shave? Also referred to as an in-shave, it is used to hollow out the inside of a barrel stave. This is from the late 19th century.
Hallow shave / In-shave
Wagon Wheel Wrench
Next up we have the Wagon Wheel Wrench. These were used on a horse-drawn wagons, carriages, stagecoaches, and carts - pretty much anything with a wheel. A wheelwright would use this tool to make or repair the wheels.

More old-time tools to come...



SaiKeerthi sudha said...

Great collection of ancient farming reapers!

SEO said...

Interesting facts about farming reapers! Thanks for the share!

Anand J said...

Nice one about the farming reapers!

Barb Norton El said...

I landed here by Googling "harrows" in search for a link or two to show people reading my blog what harrows are.

My blog is really new (posting old letters/photos found in a family homestead) so there won't be much, if any, traffic but I did want to share your wonderful blog with any potential readers that may come.

roja Ji said...

Very impressive post on Framing reaper's

Sirish K said...

I like your information so much on farming reapers. It is something worth appreciating by us.

Addison Alma said...

Agricultural tools and equipment Running a ahead of its period farm is not easy; it takes the mastery of dozens of skills and long hours of show in all kinds of weather. It in addition to takes a loads of specialised agricultural tools and equipment. Farm implements go protection thousands of years, all the quirk to the invention of agriculture; equipment, as certain from implements, goes calm occurring at least to the industrial chaos. For most farmers, these implements are as important as the home itself, because there is no showing off they can acquire the harvest in without them. They furthermore represent a huge investment, especially the close equipment, and no concern can afford to throw away a major investment, especially not an investment that's integral to their business.

aaliyahaaren said...

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Andrea Ashlyn said...

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