The New International Encyclopædia/Reapers

Edition of 1905.  See also Reaper on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

REAPERS, REAPING (from reap, AS. rīpan, to reap; connected with OHG. rīfi, Ger. reif, AS. rīpe, Eng. ripe). The first implement used for reaping was the reaping hook or sickle, dating from the Stone and Bronze ages (Fig. 1, a, b, c, d). Records of this implement are found in Egyptian history B.C. 1400 to 1500. The earliest form of the sickle had a slightly curved blade with straight handle; later the blade was toothed or serrated, and its form approached that of the modern sickle. As a rule the edge was made plain and sharp like a knife. The ancient Jews used a sickle of the Egyptian form. In China and Japan to-day are found sickles of much the same form as those which have been used there from time immemorial. The Greeks and Romans used smooth-bladed sickles or a sickle with toothed blade attached to a curved stick. The latter also used a small hooked knife resembling a pruning hook. The scythe followed the sickle and was apparently introduced by the Romans, by whom it was employed mainly for cutting grass. Pliny, in his writings, distinguishes between the sickle and the scythe, and Crescenzio described both in 1548. At first the scythe was intermediate in construction between the sickle and the modern scythe, as in the Hainault scythe (Fig. 1, f). In time the blade became lighter, and the handle underwent numerous changes in form and material until the modern crooked wooden pattern was evolved. The next step was the fastening of fingers (one to four) to the scythe parallel with the blade, thus evolving the so-called cradle scythe (Fig. 2, a). The fingers were at first made shorter than the blade, and the operator cut toward, and left the cut grain leaning against, the standing grain. The Americans made improvements in these old forms, and developed the American cradle scythe (Fig. 2, b) about the period from 1776 to 1800. This implement was in universal use in America at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It is now employed only where the use of reaping machines is impracticable. Both sickle and scythe are widely useful agricultural implements.

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The first reaping machine recorded in history is the Gallic header (Fig. 3) mentioned by Pliny, A.D. 23, as used in the extensive fields of the lowlands of Gaul. This consisted of a large box with projecting teeth along its front edge, which was pushed through the grain by an ox hitched in rear. The heads were caught and torn off by the teeth and were raked into the box by an attendant. A similar machine was mentioned by Palladius four centuries later, but it was forgotten for ages. In modern times the idea of a mechanical reaper seems to have originated with Cabel Lloft of Britain, who in 1785 suggested a machine somewhat after the pattern of the Gallic header. It was probably never constructed. After that date numerous unsuccessful attempts were made to construct a practical reaping machine on the Gallic header plan or using the revolving knife idea. In 1807 Salmon of Woburn made the first reciprocating and advancing-motion machine, its cutter consisting of vibrating knives over stationary cutters. This machine as well as that of Gladstone was provided with a rake to sweep the grain from the platform. A number of machines were invented and given trial about this time, but little progress was made until 1822, when Henry Ogle brought out his side-draught machine, with reels, reciprocating knife (straight-edged) over stationary fingers, dividers, and platform, thus foreshadowing the essential features of the modern reaper (Fig. 4). In 1827 Patrick Bell invented a machine which was used with considerable success in England and Scotland. Its cutter worked on the shear principle. The cut grain was carried to one side by means of revolving rollers. It had reels and dividers, and was pushed through the grain by a team hitched in the rear. This machine, although built on a wrong principle, is important because it was simple in construction and fairly efficient in practice. It was introduced to some extent in America.

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From this time forward independent English development of the reaper practically ceased, and reaper construction began to be influenced by American ideas and methods.

The first patent for a reaping machine in America was granted to Richard French and T. J. Hawkins of New Jersey in 1803. In 1812 a patent was granted to Peter Gaillard of Pennsylvania for a grass-cutting machine, which was the first of its kind in America or England. A more successful grass cutter was invented by Jeremiah Bailey of Pennsylvania in 1822. It was built on the revolving cutter plan, with side-draught and an arrangement for keeping the cutter at a uniform distance from the ground. Several other machines followed these, the most important of which was that of William Manning of New Jersey, patented in 1831, which had a cutting device very closely resembling those of Hussey and McCormick, which afterwards became important. It also had a grain divider, the first recorded on an American machine. At this epoch American genius combined all the best features of preceding inventions, English and American, in two practical machines, that patented by Obed Hussey of Marvland in 1833 and that patented by C. H. McCormick of Virginia in 1834. These machines were very similar in principle. Hussey's was provided with a cutter of pointed blades attached to a bar, which vibrated through slots in iron fingers projecting from the front of the cutter bar. The grain fell on a platform and was raked off by a man riding on the machine. It had no reels. McCormick's had a serrated edge knife with wavy outline instead of pointed sections as in Hussey's. It was provided with a divider and reels, but no seat for the attendant who raked off the cut grain. Both were side-draught machines. McCormick's was arranged so that it could be either drawn or pushed. These two machines furnished the basis upon which all successful modern machines have been constructed. They continued to be improved, but not until nearly the middle of the century could they be said to have achieved any practical success. They were entered in competition with each other and with English machines at the Exposition in London in 1851. Development was rapid thereafter. Both machines were introduced into England, where they influenced reaper construction to the abandonment of the older types.

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In 1848 Nelson Platt, an American, invented a self-acting rake, which swept over a quadrantal platform and left the grain in gavels at the side of the machine. This was the first of the sweep-rake type, although numerous devices for delivering the grain in gavels at the side of the machine had been patented. In 1851 Palmer & Williams and William H. Seymour obtained jiatents for sweep-rakes over quadrant platform. In 1856 Owen Dorsey of Maryland patented a self-rake which was an improvement of Hoffhein's type, invented in 1852. McCormick introduced his self-rake in 1861, based on S. A. Lindsay's patent of 1859. In this, which may be taken as a type of the self-rake machines, a rake is so used that “during one part of the revolution of the gathering-reel it acts as one of the vanes of the reel in bending the standing grain to the cutting blades. When the rake reaches the cutting blades in front of the platform, it ceases to revolve around the reel-shaft (which continues its rotary motion), and is made to move horizontally upon a vertical hinge, to which one end is attached (the points of the teeth being near the surface of the platform), sweeping the cut grain off at the side, and depositing it on the ground in sheaves ready for the binder.”

The first recorded attempt to bind grain by machinery was made by John E. Heath of Ohio, who obtained a patent in 1850, which was for a twine or cord binder. Other patents rapidly followed for machines using cord, straw, and wire. The most practical of these earlier machines, although not strictly a binder, was that known as the Marsh harvester, patented in 1858, in which the cut grain was elevated to a receiving box from which it was taken and bound by two men riding on the machine. This machine contained many features of the modern binder, especially the delivery of the grain by a canvas carrier over the drive wheel as distinguished from the ‘low-down’ type in which the binding device was attached to the self-rake. In 1864 Jacob Behel invented the knotting bill, which, with slight modifications, is used in almost all modern binders. In the meantime various fairly successful wire-binding machines were put on the market by different manufacturers, but in 1875 John F. Appleby, who had invented a successful twine knotter as early as 1859, made a binding apparatus, which with subsequent improvements furnished the basis for the binding apparatus of almost all modern binders, which are essentially a combination of this binding device with the Marsh type of harvester.

The most advanced and complicated type of harvester is probably the combined header and thresher which is used to a considerable extent in some parts of the Western United States and in Australia, where there is no fear of rain during the harvest. This machine heads, threshes, cleans, and sacks the grain at one operation. Machines of this kind are pushed through the grain either by a traction engine or by horses, thirty to forty of the latter being required for each machine. They have a capacity of from 60 to 125 acres per day. Headers are also made for use uncombined with a thresher. The cut grain is deposited by means of elevators in wagons which are drawn beside the headers. It is stated that as early as 1850 a machine was invented and successfully tried in Devonshire, England, which stripped the grain from the straw, cleaned it, and ground it into flour at one operation.

The mower developed simultaneously with the reaper. In fact, many of the earlier machines were designed to be used either as a mower or as a reaper. A separate machine for cutting grass was patented as early as 1812 by Peter Gaillard of Pennsylvania. Hussey's original machine was really a mower, being built on principles afterwards adopted and developed in the construction of mowers. The most prominent name connected with the early development of mowers is that of W. F. Ketchum, who patented in 1847 a mower of simple design, having a single driving wheel. After the adoption of the Hussey type of cutter this machine proved a very successful mower of the rigid bar class. The first patent for a mower of the flexible bar type was granted to Cyrenus Wheeler in 1854. The flexible bar idea was further developed in a machine invented by Jonathan Haines in 1855. This had two drive wheels and a cutter bar jointed to the main frame in such a manner that it could be lifted over obstructions. In 1856 Aultman & Miller patented a machine which contained practically all of the essential features of the successful modern mower, viz. two driving wheels (the best types of modern reapers have one), the flexible cutter bar, with rapidly reciprocating blades, having smooth-edge sections, which was so hinged to the main frame that it could be raised and folded over against the latter when the machine was not in use. While combined reapers and mowers are still made, separate machines for the two purposes are considered preferable. The modern reaper has been adapted to the harvesting of all crops, such as maize, rice, peas, etc., and modified to meet all sorts of conditions, and has enormously decreased the labor involved in harvesting. Consult: Ardrey, American Agricultural Implements (Chicago, 1894); Stephens, The Book of the Farm, vol. ii. (Edinburgh and London, 1871); Scott, Texthook of Farm Engineering (London, 1885); Swift, Who Invented the Reaper? (Chicago, 1895); Stabler, Overlooked Pages of Reaper History (ib., 1897); Official Retrospective Exhibit of the Development of Harvesting Machinery at the Paris Exposition, 1900, United States Department of Agriculture Office of Experiment Stations, Bulletin 103.