Since the dawn of time, man has continually used his ingenuity to develop and perfect the tools needed to feed and clothe himself and those around him.
From soil-scratching sticks — the first farm “implements” — to satellites that provide signals to automatically guide high-powered tractors and combines, farm equipment has evolved through the ages to continually meet the food and clothing needs of Earth’s ever-growing population.
And as mankind advanced technologically, farmers and machine makers were among the first to adapt the breakthroughs to the implements and machinery of their trade. For those who call their life’s work farming, each innovation in agricultural equipment represents another step forward in meeting their only goals — produce more food to feed more people.
At the same time, no one has a more abiding respect for the land than those involved in agriculture — though it didn’t always seem that way. Poor farming practices and drought led to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and devastated millions of acres of fertile land. It taught us many lessons. Today, crop rotation, conservation tillage and new equipment aimed at minimizing soil and wind erosion assure that agriculture will not repeat mistakes of the past.
Through it all, the tools of farming continued to evolve, a process marked by temporary setbacks and enormous leaps forward.
The era when farm equipment moved beyond tools to “real” ag machinery was inaugurated in 1784 with the invention of the first stationary threshing machine. Developed by British farmer Andrew Meikle to help ease the backbreaking work of agriculture, it was a landmark invention that, while not achieving commercial success, provided more than a glimpse of where the industry was heading.
Ten years later, Eli Whitney unveiled the first hand-powered cotton gin, considered a marvel at the time because it was able to separate seeds, hulls and other unwanted materials from cotton after it is picked.
But it was Cyrus McCormick’s reaper, first demonstrated in 1831, that laid the foundation for the farm equipment industry we know today. This device, along with McCormick’s self-raking feature, allowed one man to cut 40 acres in a day compared with what 5 men could do by hand. Not only was it the machine that set McCormick apart from other inventors of his time, but it was also his unmatched product development, marketing and manufacturing innovations that created the model that others would follow for the next century or more — from J.I. Case to John Deere to Massey-Ferguson.
By the mid-1800s, “real” horsepower began to give way to “mechanical” horsepower as the portable steam “traction” engine quickly followed the development of the stationary steam engine. These developments heralded the coming of the tractor and farming would never again be the same. It was the tractor that brought each new innovation directly to the farmer’s field.
It was the genius and creative thinking from individual entrepreneurs that provided many of the greatest breakthroughs in agricultural history, and spurred many of today’s full-line manufacturers. This will become readily evident as you study the accompanying timeline of “Ag Equipment Firsts.”
This project represents a “first,” best effort by the editors of Farm Equipment to uncover and report significant milestones in the evolution of farm machinery that have shaped agriculture throughout history. We’re aware that with each proclaimed “first” comes debates as to who really invented what and when. For example, while Cyrus McCormick is generally recognized as the inventor of the mechanical reaper, records show that Obed Hussey was awarded a patent for a reaper a year before McCormick. Hussey spent much of the rest of his life and nearly all of his fortune trying to prove it — to no avail.
The editors also wish to acknowledge the time and devoted to this project by Charles Glass, Glass Management Group, and Phil Needham, Needham Ag Technologies.
What was Ag Equipment’s Biggest Breakthrough? Tell us in the comments.
5500 BC — The first plows were forked sticks that Sumerian farmers would drag through the dirt to form a trench in which to plant their seeds.
5200 BC — The earliest known Egyptian farm implement is a stone sickle bar point. An early scythe, completely intact with stone points attached, was found in 2008 in excavations in the Fayium depression, a fertile oasis about 50 miles west of Cairo.
1500 BC — Excavation at the Egyptian town of Guft show trench silos for storage of grain to produce bread and beer.
1500 BC — Wooden plows, pulled by domesticated animals, became the accepted tool to prepare ground for planting
475 BC — China agriculture flourishes in the Hunan states with the development of an iron plow. It was a simple hammered iron sweep that penetrated the ground and rolled the soil in two directions to develop a furrow for planting.
1698 — Thomas Savery invents a crude steam engine which initiates a chain reaction of events that leads to the development of the steam traction engine.
1702 — Jethro Tull of Great Britain invents the seed drill and is perhaps the best-known inventor of a mechanical planter. The seed drill consisted of a box of grain and seeds hauled by a horse. The seeder is built using the foot pedals of a church organ. Because the seeds are planted in rows rather than randomly, it is much easier for a horse-drawn cart to remove weeds that formed around the crop.
1784 — British inventor Andrew Meikle devises a machine to thresh grain, but it was not commercially successful.
1784 — Thomas Jefferson, U.S. president, statesman and inventor, develops the first plow designed with the use of a mathematic formula to reduce soil resistance during plowing.
1785 — A plow that features a cast iron moldboard and share is developed in Scotland by James Small.
1794 — Eli Whitney develops the first hand-powered cotton gin on the General Nathaniel Greene plantation near Savannah, Ga. The cotton gin separates seeds, hulls and other unwanted materials from cotton after it is picked.
1797 — Charles Newbold patents the first cast iron plow in America.
1814 — Jethro Woods, a blacksmith in Scipio, N.Y., patents a cast iron plow with three replaceable parts.
1822 — Jeremiah Bailey of Chester County, Pa., patents a horse-drawn machine with a revolving wheel with six knives for cutting hay and other materials.
1825 — The “whoa-back” horse-drawn hay rake is developed. The whoa-back was named for the way in which the operator had to stop the rake and back up the horse in order to dump hay to form a windrow.
1853 — Walter A. Wood introduces the spring-tooth dump rake (also called the sulky rake) to meet the growing needs of farmers working with mowers.
1833 — Obed Hussey patents the first successful reaper for small grains. It consists of an oscillating sickle bar and a platform to catch the cut stalks.
1834 — Cyrus Hall McCormick develops the horse-drawn mechanical reaper at Staunton, Va.
1834 — Joab Center, Hudson, N.Y., patents a machine for turning and spreading hay.
1836 — Hiran Moore and John Hascall, Kalamazoo, Mich., develop a machine for mowing, winnowing and threshing grain.
1837 — John Deere develops the self-scouring steel moldboard plow in his Grand Detour, Ill., shop. He learned to polish steel as a result of his boyhood job of polishing his mother’s sewing needles so they would easily penetrate cloth.
1841 — The first practical grain drill is patented by Moses and Samuel Pennock of Chester County, Pa.
1841 — Robert Ransomes of Ipswich, England, introduces the first steam-powered traction engine and began producing it commercially a year later.
1842 — The first grain elevator is built by Joseph Dart of Buffalo, N.Y. Powered by steam, Dart’s bucket elevator raised grain from lake boats to storage bins, where it remained until being shipped or milled. The elevator had a storage capacity of 55,000 bushels.
1844 — William Ketchum of Buffalo, N.Y., patents the first machine strictly for cutting hay.
1849 — The first steam traction engines appear in the U.S. These portable models are pulled by horses. One of the first portable steam engines, the “Forty Niner,” was built by A.L. Archanbault in Philadelphia. The engine was offered in 4-, 10- and 30-horsepower sizes.
1850 — The first commercially successful “hay press,” the forerunner to the modern baler, is introduced. Popularly known as “The Mormon Press,” this stationary machine processed bales of hay for transportation by barge on the nation’s rivers.
1850 — Edmund Quincy invents the corn picker.
1850 — Samuel S. Rembert and Jedidiah Prescott patent a cotton-harvesting machine in Memphis, Tenn. The original patent notes that, “Our cotton picking machine can be duplicated and extended to such a width as to embrace several rows of cotton at once.”
1853 — The first patent for a practical corn planter was issued to George W. Brown of Illinois.
1855 — The first self-propelled stream traction engine in the U.S. is invented by Obed Hussey specifically for plowing.
1856 — John Johnston, Geneva, N.Y., is the first to lay tile on his farm to drain wet fields.
1857 — The Oliver chilled cast-iron plow is developed by James Oliver.
1858 — Lewis Miller of Canton, Ohio, patents an improved hay mowing machine.
1862 — Thomas Aveling, a Kentish farmer — dissatisfied with portable steam engines used to power farm machinery because they had to be moved from site to site by a team of horses — develops a self-moving steam engine. He begins to manufacture his engines in partnership with Richard Thomas Porter to form Aveling & Porter.
1863 — John Deere develops the Hawkeye Riding Cultivator, the first implement designed to ride instead of walk behind. Because so many men lost limbs during the Civil War, the cultivator was marketed as easily operated by “one-armed or one-legged men.”
1864 — John Deere receives his first patent for the mold required in the casting of steel plows.
1869 — The J.I. Case Co. produces the first steam-powered traction engine that is used primarily to replace animals in farming operations.
1869 — Gilpin Moore designs the Gilpin Sulkey Plow, which takes farmers off their feet and allows them to ride as they plow.
1872 — Charles Withington designs the first “knotter” used on early grain reapers. This knotter replaces the two men required to hand wrap bundles of grain called a “gavel.”
1873 — Lewis Hatch, along with his son, Fred L. Hatch, erect the first tower silo on their farm near Spring Grove, lll.
1876 — George Lambert patents the first mechanical corn planter.
1879 — John Appleby designs a knotter mechanism to bind grain bundles with twine. William Deering & Co. enter into an agreement to market the Appleby knotter on their grain harvesters.
1880 — Louis Lucas and M. Silberzahn develop the Hexelbank Ensilage Cutter, a predecessor to the modern forage harvester. John W. Gehl acquires the business in 1902.
1882 — Cyrus McCormick builds the first McCormick Daisy Reaper.
1885 — Patrick J. Lawler demonstrates the first successful horse-drawn corn picker.
1886 — World’s first self-propelled combine is developed by George Stockton Berry of Lindsay, Calif.
1886 — William Deering & Co. is the first manufacturer to build a factory to produce “binder twine” used on their harvesters.
1887 — In Sterling, Ill., the Charter Gasoline Engine Co.’s creation of a gasoline-fueled engine led to early gasoline traction engines before the term “tractor” was coined by others.
1889 — Charter Gasoline Engine Co. adapts its engine to a Rumley steam-traction-engine chassis and its first production run is for 6 “traction engines.”
1891 — Joseph Oppenheim and Henry Synck of Ohio develop the first successful mechanical manure spreader.
1892 — In a tiny village in Northeast Iowa, John Froelich invents the first successful gasoline-powered engine that can be driven both backward and forward. The Froelich tractor, forerunner of the Waterloo Boy tractor, is considered by many to be the first successful gasoline tractor. Froelich’s machine fathered a long line of stationary gasoline engines and, eventually, the famous John Deere 2-cylinder tractor.
1892 — Case is the first of the old-line harvester companies to build a gas tractor. The “Paterson Tractor” was not successful and the company did not build another gas tractor until 1911.
1892 — Rudolph Diesel patents the compression ignition engine that became known as the diesel engine. Herbert Akroyd-Stuart, Halifax, Nova Scotia, files the first patent for the diesel engine in 1890, but never produces one.
1892 — Iowan Charles C. Fenno patents the first field corn silage harvester.
1893 — Charles and Elwood Williamson of Union City, Ind., invent “new and useful” improvements to land rollers for farming, roads and other purposes.
1894 — James B. Hill, Bowling Green, Ohio, patents the first steam traction ditching machine. It produced accurately sloped ditches for agricultural drain tiles.
1894 — J.I. Case begins engineering a gas traction engine when William Paterson of Stockton, Calif., came to Racine, Wis., to begin work on the experimental engine.
1894 — The side-delivery rake is developed to produce more appropriately sized windrows for hay loaders.
1897 — Charles W. Hart and Charles H. Parr form the Hart-Parr Gasoline Engine Co. in Madison, Wis. They move manufacturing operations to Charles City, Iowa, in 1900. The company is the first to call their product a “tractor.”
1902 — Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co., Minneapolis, Minn., contracts with the Joy-Wilson Co., Chicago, Ill., to design a farm tractor. This evolves into the popular Twin City “40.”
1902 — Brillion Iron Works, Brillion, Wis., produces the first soil pulverizer to produce smooth seedbeds for planting.
1904 — Benjamin Holt, a California manufacturer of agricultural equipment, develops the first successful crawler tractor. It’s equipped with tracks rather than wheels to keep heavy tractors from sinking into soft soils.
1905 —International Harvester develops the first friction-drive tractor by utilizing the IH stationary gas engine with a Morton chassis.
1907 — With chief engineer, Joseph Galamb, Henry Ford begins work on an experimental gasoline-powered tractor. It is referred to as the “automobile plow” and was never called a “tractor” during development.
1910 — Ummo Leubens develops the first round hay baler.
1912 — Australian farmer and inventor Arthur Clifford Howard develops the first powered rotary tiller.
1913 — Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. produces its first Waterloo Boy traction engine.
1915 — Minnesota farmers Andrean and Adolph Ronning patent the horse-drawn Ronning Harvester, a corn silage harvester that improved on a harvester developed 3 years earlier by South Dakotan Joseph Weigel.
1916 — In Meade County, Kan., Harry Krause designs and builds the first one-way disk plow.
1918 — American Harvester Co. of Minneapolis begins manufacturing the horse-drawn Ronning Harvester.
1919 — The Gilson Manufacturing Co. became the first to attach a gasoline engine to a multi-purpose gardening implement, ultimately manufacturing about 7,000 of these tractors for the Beeman Tractor Co. of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Gilson began making garden tractors under its own name by the early 1920s. The company was renamed Gilson Bolens Co. in 1928 and Bolens Manufacturing Co. in 1939.
1919 — International Harvester develops the first commercially available power-take-off (PTO) system, to allow power from a tractor engine to be transmitted to attached harvesting equipment.
1923 — The Baldwin Brothers of Nickerson, Kan., develop the first self-propelled “Gleaner” combine, mounted on a Fordson tractor.
1923 — Deere & Co. launches the Model “D” tractor. It will remain in the line for nearly 30 years.
1923 — International Harvester introduces its Farmall tractor. With the rear wheels set wide apart and narrow front wheels, the tractor was ideally suited for cultivating row crops.
1925 — Deere & Co. begins work on the “GP” (General Purpose) series tractor as the answer to International Harvester’s Farmall.
1926 — Stihl introduces the first electric-powered chain saw — a 140-pound electric “cross-cutting chain saw.” The saw’s bulk required it to be operated by two people, and its reliance on an electric motor limited its portability to areas where a power source was available, such as mill yards.
1926 — Helmer and Ellert Hanson of Lajord, Saskatchewan, introduce the hay swather. Engineers at International Harvester, having observed the operation of the Hanson brothers’ swather, develop their own model.
1927 — International Harvester becomes the first company to offer swathers for sale. These early machines were powered by a ground wheel, but subsequent models were PTO-driven. With the introduction of these implements, farmers were able to windrow hay and then process it during the appropriate season.
1926 — Irish mechanic Harry Ferguson patents the three-point linkage, or hitch, for agricultural tractors in Britain. The hydraulically operated and controlled 3-point hitch utilized the draft of the mounted tool to moderate the depth of the tool and the load on the tractor.
1927 — Deere & Co. offers combines in two sizes: the John Deere No. 1 and John Deere No. 2. The No. 1 was a smaller unit for smaller farm operators.
1928 — Italian tractor manufacturer SAME is credited with producing the first diesel-powered agricultural tractor.
1929 — Deere & Co. offers the “GP” wide-series tractor. The first model incorporates a narrow front wheel arrangement and rear wheels that straddle two rows, making it ideal for row-crop operations.
1929 — The Ann Arbor Baler is developed by Ray Moore McDonald and is recognized as the world’s first pickup baler.
1931 — Caterpillar manufactures a crawler tractor with a diesel engine, which offers more power, reliability and fuel efficiency than those using low-octane gasoline.
1932 — The first commercially successful pickup forage harvester is developed by Erwin W. Saiberlich and sold by Fox River Tractor Co. of Appleton, Wis.
1932 — In a breakthrough for harvesting low-growing, fragile crops, the Hume-Love floating cutter bar and pickup reel is developed and patented by James E. Love and Horace D. Hume near Garfield, Wash. The mechanisms reduce dry pea harvesting costs by 28% and crop loss from 50% to 10%. These inventions save the equivalent of 2.75 million acres of soybeans annually.
1933 — Allis Chalmers joins with Firestone Rubber to develop the first air-filled rubber tires for agricultural tractors. Tests by the Univ. of Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory find that rubber wheels result in a 25% improvement in fuel economy.
1933 —Harry Ferguson’s 3-point hitch is attached to a David Brown tractor in England, creating the Ferguson-Brown model A. By 1937, sales dropped and relations between Brown and Ferguson became hostile. Ferguson shopped his system to Henry Ford in 1939 and together they release the Ford model 9N. This partnership dissolves, resulting in a lawsuit over royalties. By 1960, Ferguson’s patent expires and the 3-point hitch becomes the industry standard.
1933 — For Servis Equipment Co., J.B. Jarmin patents a motor grader with a single, large-diameter pipe frame.
1933 – Fred Hoeme of Hooker, Okla., develops a heavy-duty chisel plow. W.T. Graham, Amarillo, Texas, purchases the manufacturing and distribution rights in 1938 and it becomes known as the Graham-Hoeme chisel plow.
1934 — Servis Equipment Co. produces the first tractor-mounted grader blade.
1935 — International Harvester introduces a diesel engine for wheeled tractors.
1935 — Agronomists Frank Duley and Jouette Russell at the Univ. of Nebraska, along with other scientists with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, begin research on conservation tillage. The practice involves various methods of tilling the soil, with stubble mulch and different types of plows and discs, to control wind erosion and manage crop residue. This technology becomes common on farms by the early 1960s.
1936 — Ed Nolt, a Pennsylvania farmer, purchases a knotter mechanism to bale the windrows of straw produced by his combine. This was the first twine tie hay/straw baler.
1936 — Stihl unveils a centrifugal clutch for chain saws that ensures the saw chain is automatically advanced as the engine speed increases.
1930-1938 — Massey Harris develops its M-H General Purpose tractor, the industry’s first four-wheel-drive, steel-wheeled tractor. It also has an adjustable track width. Unfortunately, the benefits of four-wheel drive were not yet fully understood. The machine was modernized in 1936 with the installation of rubber tires, but sales failed to increase.
1937 — Charles S. Noble, Nobleford, Alberta, Canada, patents the Noble Cultivator that allows prairie farmers to shear stubble beneath the soil surface to reduce wind erosion and moisture loss.
1940 — New Holland Machine Co., New Holland, Pa., develops the first commercially successful automatic pickup, self-tying hay and straw baler.
1941 — Servis Equipment Co., Dallas, Texas, introduces the Whirlwind Terracer. International Harvester recommends its dealers become Whirlwind dealers, resulting in a rush of orders to meet new soil conservation efforts.
1941 — Massey Ferguson produces the first successful self-propelled combine with the Massey-Harris 21SP combine.
1941 — Raymond A. Hanson invents the first self-leveling controls for the Hillside Combine, but the first self-leveling mechanisms aren’t built until 1945.
1942 — International Harvester builds the first commercially successful cotton picker, but scientists must modify the cotton plant to eliminate foliage and ensure uniform ripening.
1943 — “Old Red,” the first commercial spindle cotton picker that International Harvester introduced a year earlier, moves across the San Joaquin Valley of California to radically change cotton harvesting.
1944 — Leonard T. Fleischer develops the first ridge-till equipment and establishes Fleischer Manufacturing Co. in Grand Isle, Neb.
1945 — Glen Jones designs and sells the first tractor-powered posthole digger.
1945 — Swisher Mower and Machine Co. develops the first zero-turn lawn mower.
1945 — Peter Pakosh, designs and builds the first prototype grain auger and, 8 years later, starts selling thousands under the “Versatile” name, making it the standard for modern grain augers.
1946 — Woods Brothers Equipment Co., Oregon, Ill., develops the first tractor-mounted rotary cutter mower, invented by Keith Leonard and Mervel Wood, it provides an advanced cutting method that permits the driver to control cutting lengths and contours.
1947 — Servis-Rhino produces the first tractor-mounted, rotary stalk shredder.
1947 — Allis Chalmers introduces the “Rotobaler” that produces round bales that are 16 inches in diameter and 48 inches wide.
1947 — Karl-Ragnar Åström builds the first front-end loader in Sweden and establishes AB Ålö-Maskiner, the manufacturer of Alo/Quicke loaders.
1947 — Edward Gideon (E.G.) Melroe founds Melroe Manufacturing Co. to produce the Melroe Pickup combine attachment.
1947 — John Eyestone, Upper Sandusky, Ohio, builds the first self-propelled, 4-row corn picker-sheller. He builds the machine by using a surplus WW II 6-WD power unit, installing two Minneapolis-Moline pull-type corn heads together and adding a new Minneapolis-Moline sheller to the frame. He then installs a 320-bushel bin to collect the shelled grain.
1947 — Servis Equipment Co. engineers Clyde Robinson and Hoy West develop the first front-mounted stalk shredder to shred cotton and corn stalks.
1947 — Lyle Yost, founder of Hesston Machine and Manufacturing Co., develops the first grain auger unloader for combines.
1947 — Ray Hagie, founder of Hagie Manufacturing Co., Clarion, Iowa, invents the first self-propelled sprayer for agricultural applications.
1947 — In the state of Washington, Clayton Merry designs the first chain-drive front tine tiller, the Merry Tiller. MacKissic acquired the Merry Tiller in 1991.
1947 — Brandt Machine Works, Carlisle, Ark., manufactured its first grain cart, designed to help a local farmer haul rice from the combine in the field to the truck. Several are still in use today. The firm followed this innovtion with the design of a round hopper grain cart in the 1950s.
1948 — Brillion Iron Works introduces the “Sure Stand” grass seeder.
1948 — Colorado farmer Frank Zybach invents the center pivot irrigation machine, which revolutionizes irrigation technology. The system consists of sprinklers attached to arms that radiate from a water-filled hub out to motorized wheeled towers in the field. Zybach is awarded a patent in 1952 for the “Self-Propelled Sprinkling Irrigating Apparatus.”
1949 — Univ. of California-Davis agricultural engineers Coby Lorenzen and Jack Hanna develop a successful tomato harvester that is made by Blackwelder Manufacturing Co. of Rio Vista, Calif.
1949 — Seeing a need to increase flotation in wet field conditions and make better use of the tractor’s available horsepower, Richard and L.G. Unverferth, develop the first bolt-on dual tractor wheels. This innovation uses a cast “hat-style” extension that attach the dual wheels to the drive wheel’s weight holes.
1950 — The first self-propelled windrower is produced by Killbery Industries and marketed under the “Grain-Saver” brand name.
1950 — The Stihl BL is unveiled as the first one-man, gasoline-powered chain saw. It weighs 35 pounds and is equipped with a manually-adjusted swivel carburetor that allows the saw to be used for both bucking and felling.
1950 — The “Pulvi-Mulcher” tills and compacts a seedbed in one pass is introduced by Brillion Iron Works.
1951 — The Ferguson Co. develops a side-stroke reel rake that uses only two spiders and six bars. Around the same period, a no-reel rake was invented. Called a finger-wheel type rake, it uses raking wheels with tooth-like projections. The side-delivery type continued to develop and remains the most widely used type of hay rake today.
1954 — Valmont Industries develops the first commercially successful irrigation system for Great Plains farmers.
1955 — Hesston Machine and Manufacturing Co., Hesston, Kan., introduces the first self-propelled swather.
1956 — The Roll-Over Protection System (ROPS) for tractors is developed by Lloyd H. Lamouria, Ralph R. Parks and Coby Lorenzen at the Univ. of California-Davis.
1956 — South Australian company Gyral, founded by Albert Fuss, introduces an air seeder in the 1950s in response to farmers who were unable to plant in more compact soil environments. The seeder was light in weight and mounted on a Graham Holme chisel plow.
1957 — Deere & Co. signals a significant change in row-crop planting with the introduction of a 6-row planter and cultivator, designed for corn and cotton producers.
1957 — The first skid-steer loader, designed and built by Cyril and Louis Keller, Rothsay, Minn., is a small, lightweight, 3-wheel front-end loader capable of turning 360 degrees within its own length.
1958 — AB Ålö-Maskiner develops the first “drive-in” front end loader.
1958 — Linde’s launch of the first hydrostatic transmission marked a milestone in the history of forklift design.
1958 — Melroe Manufacturing Co. forms a partnership with Cyril and Louis Keller to create the Melroe self-propelled loader.
1958 — John Steiger, along with sons Douglas and Maurice, build the first Steiger tractor in their barn at Red Lake Falls, Minn. Steiger #1 was built from truck components and powered by a 238-horsepower Detroit Diesel Engine.
1959 — The Wagner TR is the first articulated tractor in production with 4-wheel drive and 4-wheel steering. It is powered by a Cummins 8.1-liter, 90-horsepower or 12.2-liter 155-horsepower engine.
1960 — First all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are built by Jiger Corp. and appear as 6-wheel vehicles with yellow fiberglass tubs that allow them to float.
1960 —International Harvester launches the Cub Cadet as the first lawn and garden tractors produced by a major tractor manufacturer.
1960 — Melroe Manufacturing Co. introduces the M-400, the first 4-wheeled, all-wheel drive “skid-steer” loader.
1960 – MacKissic introduces interchangeable grinding screens in stalk shredders.
1960s — New Holland introduces the industry’s first mower-conditioner. The Haybine 460 cuts and conditions hay in one pass to make hay harvesting faster. The company also introduced the industry’s first self-propelled windrower, the Speedrower windrower; the industry’s first self-propelled forage harvester and the industry’s first automatic bale wagon.
1962 — Eugene Sukup of Sheffield, Iowa, builds the first grain dryer for use in on-farm grain bins. It consists of a stoker auger, an electric drill to power it and a length of chain to suspend it within the bin.
1962 — To increase the capacity of its engines, Allis-Chalmers introduces the Model D19, the world’s first mass-produced tractor with a turbocharged diesel engine. The 4.3 liter engine increased power by 10%. It was a technological victory for Allis-Chalmers and today most diesel engines are turbocharged to provide more power and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
1963 — Eugene Keeton demonstrates the finger pick-up seed meter for planters and then sells the design to Deere & Co.
1964 — Ace Pump Corp. of Memphis, Tenn., develops the first PTO-driven centrifugal pump for applying newly developed wettable chemicals.
1966 — Allis Chalmers introduces the first no-till planter.
1966 — The DICKEY-john Manufacturing Co. introduces electronic monitoring devices to allow farmers to plant crops more efficiently. Attached to mechanical planters and air seeders, the devices monitor the number and spacing of seeds being planted.
1966 — A farmer and rancher from North Dakota notices the need for an affordable and moderate-sized tub grinder to feed his livestock. He starts a company to produce the Haybuster C-Series. It was the first product for the company now known as DuraTech Industries International, Inc., which is headquartered in Jamestown, N.D.
1967 — International Harvester introduces the first hydrostatic-drive combine.
1967 — Kinze Manufacturing of Williamsburg, Iowa, builds the first auger-unloading grain wagon.
1967 — Unverferth Manufacturing introduces the step-up wheel lug that allows farmers to adapt older tractors to the larger 38-inch diameter wheels and tires that manufactures are installing on new tractor models. The larger tires improved drawbar horsepower and speed.
1967 — Charles Shivvers invents and patents the tapered sweep auger, the Shivvers Circu-Lator, the first in-bin continuous flow grain drying system.
1969 — Rekord Sales, Atherstone, England, develops the first commercially successful straw chopper attachment for combines.
1969 — Avery Weigh-Tronix invents the weigh bar first installed on an Art’s-Way grinder mixers, securing a patent in 1972. The new invention revolutionized grinder mixer machinery, allowing a farmer to accurately batch feed rations for hogs. They can weigh each ingredient added into the mixer and accurately dispense it to different groups of livestock.
1969 — Ace Pump Corp., Memphis, Tenn., introduces the first close-coupled hydraulic motor-driven spray pump.
1969 — Servis-Rhino patents the first 4-gearbox, flex-wing rotary cutter. The Flex 15 enables the wings to be raised without damaging the wing drivelines. Until then, all flex-wing cutters featured only three gearboxes.
1969 — Don Landoll invents the first traveling axle trailer.
Telehandlers Appear on the Scene
In the 1970s, telescopic handlers, or telehandlers, were pioneered by the Matbro company at Horley in Surrey, England, which developed them from their articulated cross-country forestry forklifts. Telehandlers were introduced in the U.S. as a labor-saving device in the early 1980s and eventually migrated to farm use. JCB claims to have invented the telehandler concept, and the company introduced the Loadall in 1978, which appears in the U.S. during the 1980s. Another innovator, Merlo, launched its first telescopic handler in 1981, the same year that Manitou says its first telehandler was built. Manitou unveiled its first ag-focused telehandler in 1989. Merlo claims to have launched the first side-engined telehandler (1986), first rotary telehandler (1990). Manitou’s MRT (rotating telescopics) was built in 1990.
In 2008, Manitou North America introduces what it believes to be the world’s largest rough-terrain telehandler, the MHT 10160. This was followed up with the introduction of the world’s largest rough-terrain telescopic handler, the MHT 10210, a 46,000-pound capacity unit. It is the first heavy rough-terrain telehandler to be launched in the U.S. market.
1970 — Melroe Manufacturing introduces the quick-attach system known as the “Bob-Tach” implement system.
1971 — The cotton module builder is developed by Lambert H. Wilkes of Texas A&M Univ.
1971 — Kinze Manufacturing produces the first 2-wheeled grain carts featuring high-capacity loading and a large-diameter auger for fast unloading.
1972 — MacKissic introduces the first shredder-chipper combination that is the first to use a centrifugal clutch to make starting easier.
1972 — Five agricultural businessmen produce the first plastic bag for silage storage in the U.S. and organize Ag-Bag Corp.
1972 — Vermeer Co. designs and introduces a modern baler to produce “big” round hay bales. The first model formed a 6-foot wide by 7-foot diameter bale that weighed more than a ton.
1975 — Kinze Manufacturing Inc., Willamsburg, Iowa, invents the rear-fold planter.
1975 — Valmont Industries develops irrigation equipment designed to cover corners, square and irregular-shaped fields.
1973 — Ag-Chem Equipment Co. introduces the first 3-wheel applicator for fertilizer and other crop protection products. The TerraGator features high-flotation tires to minimize compaction.
1976 — New Holland introduces the first rotary combine.
1976 — SprayTarget Co., Rosemount, Minn., develops the wet lime spreader.
1976 — Ag-Chem introduces a 5-wheel applicator, nearly twice the size of the original model to meet the needs of customers with larger acreages.
1977 — International Harvester introduces its axial-flow combine.
1977 — Valmont produces the first linear irrigation system.
1977 — Versatile introduces the Versatile 150, the world’s first bi-directional tractor. It’s billed as the first “push-pull” tractor and marketed as “number of self-propelled machines in one.” The seat and console of the tractor could be swiveled 180 degrees within the cab. The Versatile 150 offered full-time hydrostatic drive to all four wheels, with articulated steering.
1978 — Hesston produces the first large square baler.
1978 — Wahpeton Canvas Co., Wahpeton, N.D., develops a tarp for grain trucks and trailers that rolls across the load and securely attaches to the other side, allowing for a quick operation and secure lockdown.
1979 — Raven Industries, Sioux Falls, S.D., develops the first sprayer control system to accurately measure the flow of materials.
1979 — Claas develops the first row-sensing, auto-pilot technology for combines it produced for Ford. The system utilizes fingers mounted on the header that are directly connected to the combine steering system.
1979 — To keep the elements and animals away from freshly harvested grain in combine grain tanks, Claas develops folding grain tank doors on equipment built for Ford.
1980s — Hydro Engineering is the first company to apply manure using a pumping unit to propel manure to a toolbar injector through a hose injection directly into the soil.
1980 – Monosem, (formerly Advanced Technical Implement) introduces the vacuum planter to the U.S. market. This development greatly improves the precision of the seed drop during planting. Prior to its introduction, planters in the U.S. were either mechanical or air pressure systems.
1980 — Haybuster introduces the first balebuster that allows operators to grind and distribute hay bales. It automates a number of manual operations, including range feeding, bunk feeding, bedding, erosion control and odor control on waste water lagoons.
1980 — Case International Harvester (Case IH) introduces the first articulated tractor with its 2+2 model.
1980 — Loral (AgChem) introduces Air Spread and AirMax boom-type, truck-mounted fertilizer spreaders with air-boom delivery that proved more effective than spinner-type spreaders. The Air Spread was patented in 1984.
1980 — John Deere produces a 4-row cotton picker, the first in the industry. It is estimated the unit will increase operators’ productivity by 85-95%.
1982 — KZCO introduces the Electra-Halt for anhydrous sprayer on-off control that uses a 12-vold DC electric “motorized full-flow ball valve” rather than electric solenoid valves.
1984 — North Dakota farmer, Ardon Herman, develops the Diamond disk blade to reduce breakage due to rocks. The diamond shape allows the unit to “float easily over rocks.” Summers Manufacturing, Maddock, N.D., manufactured the blade.
1984 — Shivvers Manufacturing introduces the first computerized grain dryer control system (CompuDry) where both grain moisture and plenum temperature is regulated with one control.
1985 — Claas develops net wrap as an alternative to twine for round hay bales. It decreases hay losses in the field and aids in retaining hay nutrition during storage.
1985 — The prototype of the Willmar AirRide self-propelled sprayer is unveiled. The new model fits the need for a North American-built, high-capacity, self-propelled, high-clearance sprayer. The unit featured a 100-foot boom, 118-horsepower engine, 4-wheel hydrostatic drive, and a convertible chassis to accept either a liquid or granular applicator.
1986 — Massey Ferguson introduces the first electronic lift control (ELC) 3-point hitch as standard equipment on its tractors. Electronic lift control provides fast and precise control of height limit, draft sensing, rate of drop, as well as depth control to automatically maintain any pre-selected depth.
1987 — Caterpillar introduces the “Mobil-Trac” rubber track system with its Challenger tractor line.
1987 — Howard Martin, Elkton, Ky., files a patent for the first ground-driven row cleaner for no-till planting.
1988 — Crary Air Reels are developed to evenly distribute grains at the combine head and improve harvesting efficiencies.
1989 — Eugene Keeton of Trenton, Ky., files a patent for the brush meter.
1989 — Richard Follmer, owner of Progressive Farm Products in Hudson, Ill., invents the mid-mount, dual-placement strip-till toolbar that is now being used by thousands of Corn Belt farmers.
1991 — Initial optical sensing research at Oklahoma State Univ. focuses on detecting and spraying weeds. At the same time, James Beck, a Northern California electronics engineer, develops the Patchen technology and in 1992 founds Patchen, currently a subsidiary of NTech. He then designs a spraying system integrating the technology. This integrated optical sensing becomes the basis for GreenSeeker variable rate fertilizer application system and WeedSeeker, which uses similar technology to selectively spot spray weeds.
1992 — Trimble develops real-time kinematic (RTK) technology. By adding a correction signal to the signals coming from Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites, RTK allows extremely accurate moment-by-moment location updates while on the move. Trimble RTK soon became invaluable for high-accuracy guidance of construction and agricultural equipment.
1995 — Fendt introduces the VARIO CVT (continuously variable transmission) tractor technology. This technology is developed by Fendt with Sauer-Danfoss (then Sauer-Sundstrand), and combines the infinite speeds of a hydrostatic transmission with the efficiency of a powershift by using a planetary gear set to split the engine output into a hydrostatic section and a mechanical section, eliminating traditional transmission gears.
1992 — Satloc Inc. introduces the first GPS lightbar, initially designed for guidance in aerial applications. As the reliability of GPS receivers improved, the technology was adapted to ground-based applications.
1993 — Howard Martin invents and patents the first spiked closing wheel for planters.
1994 — Eugene Keeton files a patent for the Keeton seed firmer.
1995 — A U.S. Patent is assigned to Ag-Bag Corp. and inventors Larry Inman, Ronald Garvin, Patrick Welch and Michael Koskela of Ag-Bag Corp. for the company’s grain-bagging and bale-bagging machines. Miller-St. Nazianz purchased the operating assets of Ag-Bag International in 2004.
1999 — The AutoFarm Agricultural Division of Novariant is formed to launch the first commercially available automated steering system for farm equipment using GPS.
1995 — Monosem develops the first vacuum planter for vegetable applications to precisely plant the small, expensive seeds.
1995 — Marion Calmer of Calmer Corn Heads, Alpha, Ill., develops the first 15-inch narrow-row corn head.
1995 — Salford Farm Machinery Ltd, Ontario, Canada, introduces the “Wing Plow” to aid in soil conservation tillage.
1997 — Equipment Technologies introduces its mechanically driven self-propelled sprayer.
1998 — Krone introduces the BiG M self-propelled mower conditioner in the U.S. It’s capable of cutting 30 feet of hay in one pass with a capacity of 40 acres per hour and merges the 30 feet into one windrow.
1996 — Monosem releases the first twin-row vacuum planter to plant peanuts in Georgia. When it produced peanut yield increases of 12%-15%, the company also develops twin-row cotton, corn and soybean planters. The twin-row configuration gives the plant more room to grow, increasing yields and reducing inputs. The final design of the twin-row planter was patented 2003.
2000 — Ingersoll becomes the first company to manufacture and market boron alloy steel disc blades in North America. The steel provides longer life, less wear and improved performance in tillage equipment.
Vertical Tillage Emerges
Pinpointing when the first vertical tillage equipment was invented is difficult, as it appears to have evolved over a period of time. The technique is also sometimes referred to as zone tillage.
Brillion Iron Works in Brillion, Wis., began research and testing on a vertical tillage implement in 1998. It began selling the “Zone Commander” in 2000.
Early forms of vertical-tillage tools appeared during a five-year Farm Journal uniform soil density study in Leroy, Ill., which concluded in 2000. Among the tools tested was McFarlane Manufacturing’s Spiral Reel Stalk Chopper, as well as new tools from Phillips, Phoenix and Precision Planting. Industry sources interviewed by Farm Equipment point to Brillion as having the likely “first” vertical tillage tool.
2001 — AutoFarm/Novariant announces the first successful implementation of sub-inch steering for a tractor with a front-mounted implement.
2001 — Salford develops the residue tillage specialist (RTS) for high-speed, no-till farming.
2003 — Calmer Corn Heads devises the formula to calculate the trash intake of corn heads.
2003 — Canadian firm, Montgomery Industries, develops AutoBoom boom height control system to accurately control spray booms during high-speed spraying operations and receives the Invention of the Year award at the 2004 Western Canada Farm Progress show. Raven acquires Montgomery in 2005.
2004 — Claas introduces a 40-foot grain head for combines.
2004 — Fendt introduces the Tractor Management System (TMS), an electronic software interface between the engine and transmission used to control engine speed relative to ground speed. TMS allows the tractor to operate at the proper engine speed by automatically coordinating the engine and transmission, minimizing rpm’s, maximizing power to the ground and optimizing fuel efficiency.
2004 — Claas introduces its first self-propelled, large-scale hay mower for mowing a 45-foot swath in one pass.
2005 — CEMCO introduces the computer-controlled crop-thinning machine for use in chili production.
2005 — John A. McClure of Scottsdale, Ariz., is granted a patent for a guidance system for directing a towed implement behind a tractor using differential global positioning systems (DGPS). Rights to market the system are assigned to CSI Wireless Inc. of Alberta, Canada.
2006 — In partnership with Orthman Manufacturing, AutoFarm introduces AFTracke, the first implement steering system based on RTK GPS.
2006 — Richiger introduces the “Flexi-Grain Storage System” for loading and unloading grains stored in polyethylene bags.
2007 — Leica Geosystems introduces its Virtual Wrench service that provides customers with almost instantaneous remote trouble-shooting service via GPS satellite technology.
2008 — Leica Geosystems debuts its CORS (Continuously Operating Reference Station) Network software that allows auto-steer system users to use tower networks being built across the U.S. Many of the networks provide free RTK signal access through their state’s Department of Transportation.
2007 — Yamaha Motors USA develops the first electric power steering for ATVs.
2007 — Brillion introduces first tillage machine that combines both zone-till and strip-till technology into one unit.
2007 — The Krone BiG X 1000 with a 12-row corn header introduces with the twin-engine concept. It’s the first machine propelled by two engines with a combined 1,020 horsepower.
2008 — Valmont produces the first electronic control panel that will accept GPS directions for area irrigation.
2009 – AGCO is the first agricultural equipment manufacturer to provide SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) clean air-technology engines on their tractors.
2009 – Vermeer Corp. introduces their new cob harvester to collect corn cobs expelled by combines for conversion into ethanol fuels.
Sources for Ag Equipment Historical Information
Ralph W. Sanders, Vintage Farm Tractors, Voyageur Press, 1996 • Bolens Tractors, Gilson Manufacturing Co., 1927 • The Bolens Story, FMC Corp., 1967 • History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Wis., Chicago: Western Historical Co., 1881 • Hannu Niskanen, The Proud History of AGCO, 2008 • Ralph W. Sanders, The Farm Tractor — 100 Years of North American Tractors, MBI Publishing Co. and Voyageur Press (2007) • Jarrod Pakosh, Versatile Tractors — A Farm Boy’s Dream, Boston Mills Press, 2003 • Michael Williams, Tractors of the World, Paragon Publishing, 2006 • C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements & Antiques, 2nd Edition, Krause Publications, 2003 • Shannon Miller, The First Fifty Years, 1968. • Greatest Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century, A Timeline of Agricultural Mechanization — adapted from the 2003 book, A Century of Innovation: Twenty Engineering Achievements That Transformed Our Lives, greatachievements.org, National Academy of Engineering. http://www.greatachievements.org/?id=3725 • Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, History of the ATV, www.svia.org, 2008. http://www.svia.org/About/History.aspx • The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, Air Seeders, Bourgault Industries, http://esask.uregina.ca, 2006. http://esask.uregina.ca/entry/air_seeders.html • Ritchiewiki: Everything About Equipment, Seeder, ritchiewiki.com/wiki, 2009. http://www.ritchiewiki.com/wiki/index.php/Seed_drill • Mary Bellis, About.com: Inventors, Introduction to the Agricultural Revolution, inventors.about.com, 2009. http://inventors.about.com/od/indrevolution/a/AgriculturalRev.htm • Mary Bellis, About.com: Inventors, A History of American Agriculture 1776-1990, en.wikipedia.com, 2009. • About.com, Agriculture and Farm Innovations, inventors.about.com, 2009. http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blfarm.htm • Paul S. Boyer, Encyclopedia.com, Farm Machinery, 2001. References: Robert C. Williams, Fordson, Farmall, and Poppin' Johnny: A History of the Farm Tractor and Its Impact on America, 1987; R. Douglas Hurt, American Agriculture: A Brief History, 1994. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O119-FarmMachinery.html •Farmers Weekly Interactive, Farm Inventions Competition, fwi.co.uk, 2007. http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/2007/09/11/106594/farm-inventions-competition.html •Wikipedia.com, Henry Synck, en.wikipedia.org, 2009. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Synck • Anna Carlson, The Tractor Changes Rural Life, Illinois Periodicals Online, 2000. http://www.lib.niu.edu/2000/ihy000230.html • Froelich Foundation, Froelich Tractor History, froelichtractor.com, 2009. http://www.froelichtractor.com/thetractor.html • Wikipedia, Baler, en.wikipedia.org, references: Vermeer Corp., 2009. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baler • Wikipedia, Auger, en.wikipedia.org, 2009. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auger Special thanks to Dee Weeda, Broadhead + Co. for AGCO Corp.; Holly Fritz, H.B. Fritz & Associates for New Holland Corp.; Adam Reid, Versatile; Dave Steffens, Steffens Systems; Andy Randle, Ace Pump Corp.; Anita Gross, Shur-Co.; Art Forward for Bush Hog Engineering; Ashley Utt, Shivvers Manufacturing; Dan Belzer, Vermeer Corp.; Bellana Putz, Lessing Flynn for Vermeer Corp.; Stashia Bittner, Ag-Bag, a Miller-St. Nazianz Inc. Co.; Breinn Richter, Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers; Carol Aschwanden, One Pass Tillage; Carrie Widger, KZ Valve; Tim Brown, Don Niehs and Cecilia Bakker, Monosem Inc.; Charlie May, Equipment Technologies; Christopher Weishaar, Two Rivers Marketing for Bobcat; Dale L. Boeth, HBS Systems; Dan?Gillespie, TracPacker; Darrell Mount, Lanair – Lenan Corp.; Diana Kuhl Stubbs, CDS-John Blue Co.; Don Kohle, Free Form Plastic Products; Erin Brothers, Stihl Communications, Meridian Group; Gary Lake, Stoltzfus Spreaders; Gene Anderson, Brush Wolf; Hannah M.K. Jewett and Laura Henke, Charleston Orwig for Brillion Iron Works; Hartwig Janssen, Krone-North America; Grace Funk, Hydra Fold Auger; Jeanne Chancellor, Bad Boy Inc.; Jennifer Sondag, H2M for DuraTech Industries; Dave Swanson, Avery Weigh-Tronix; Tate Hoxworth, Michelin North America; Stefanie Gooch, Cummins Inc.; Michelle Haider, Crary Air Reel; Mandi Baronas, Nelson Schmidt for Club Car; Jeroen Meijerink, Trioliet Mullos; Rob Zemenchik, Case IH; Paul Meeks, GreatDay; Joe Robertson, AutoFarm/Novariant; Marion Calmer, Calmer Corn Heads; Kristin Tilus, Applied Technology Div., Raven Industries; Jerry Ecklund, Unverferth Manufacturing; T.C. Truesdell, Claas North America; Steve Berkey, SafeWay Hydraulics; Wayne Wenzel, Agriculture Div., Trimble Navigation; Lori Heidecker, Gehl Co.; Joann Stout, Mackissic; John Hochstein, Hydro Engineering.
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