American Farm Machinery and Technology Changes from 1776-1990

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How American Agricultural Technology Changed 1776 - 1990

Only a couple of centuries ago, farming was very different and used very little technology. See how the agricultural revolution and inventions changed farming so far less manual labor is needed to feed the world. This information is from the USDA.

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16th to 18th Century Farm Technology and Equipment

  • oxen and horses for power
  • crude wooden plows
  • all sowing is done by hand
  • cultivating by hoe
  • hay and grain cutting with sickle
  • threshing with flail
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1776-99 Farm Technology Innovations

The farm technology revolution begins.

  • 1790's - Cradle and scythe introduced
  • 1793 - Invention of cotton gin
  • 1794 - Thomas Jefferson's moldboard of least resistance tested.
  • 1797 - Charles Newbold patented first cast-iron plow
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Early 1800s - Agricultural Revolution Begins

 The agricultural revolution picks up steam.

  • 1819 - Jethro Wood patented iron plow with interchangeable parts
  • 1819-25 - U.S. food canning industry established
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1830s

In 1830, about 250-300 labor-hours were required to produce 100 bushels (5 acres) of wheat with walking plow, brush harrow, hand broadcast of seed, sickle, and flail

  • 1834 - McCormick reaper patented
  • 1834 - John Lane began to manufacture plows faced with steel saw blades
  • 1837 - John Deere and Leonard Andrus began manufacturing steel plows. The plow was made of wrought iron and had a steel share that could cut through sticky soil without clogging.
  • 1837 - Practical threshing machine patented 
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1840s - Commercial Farming

The growing use of factory-made agricultural machinery increased farmers' need for cash and encouraged commercial farming.

  • 1841 - Practical grain drill patented
  • 1842 - First grain elevator, Buffalo, NY
  • 1844 - Practical mowing machine patented
  • 1847 - Irrigation begun in Utah
  • 1849 - Mixed chemical fertilizers sold commercially
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1850s

In 1850, about 75-90 labor-hours were required to produce 100 bushels of corn (2-1/2 acres) with walking plow, harrow, and hand planting

  • 1850-70 - Expanded market demand for agricultural products brought adoption of improved technology and resulting increases in farm production
  • 1854 - Self-governing windmill perfected
  • 1856 - 2-horse straddle-row cultivator patented 
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1860s - Horse Power

  • 1862-75 - Change from hand power to horses characterized the first American agricultural revolution
  • 1865-75 - Gang plows and sulky plows came into use
  • 1868 - Steam tractors were tried out
  • 1869 - Spring-tooth harrow or seedbed preparation appeared
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1870s

  • 1870s - Silos came into use
  • 1870s - Deep-well drilling first widely used
  • 1874 - Glidden barbed wire patented
  • 1874 - Availability of barbed wire allowed fencing of rangeland, ending era of unrestricted, open-range grazing
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1880s

  • 1880 - William Deering put 3,000 twine binders on the market
  • 1884-90 - Horse-drawn combine used in Pacific coast wheat areas
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1890s - Increased Agricultural Mechanization and Commercialization

In 1890, 35-40 labor-hours were required to produce 100 bushels (2-1/2 acres) of corn with 2-bottom gang plow, disk and peg-tooth harrow, and 2-row planter.​ Also in 1890, 40-50 labor-hours were required to produce 100 bushels (5 acres) of wheat with gang plow, seeder, harrow, binder, thresher, wagons, and horses.

  • 1890-95 - Cream separators came into wide use
  • 1890-99 - Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 1,845,900 tons
  • 1890's - Agriculture became increasingly mechanized and commercialized
  • 1890 - Most basic potentialities of agricultural machinery that was dependent on horsepower had been discovered
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1900 - George Washington Carver Diversifies Crops

  • 1900-1909 - Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 3,738,300
  • 1900-1910 - George Washington Carver, director of agricultural research at Tuskegee Institute, pioneered in finding new uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans, thus helping to diversify southern agriculture.
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1910s - Gas Tractors

  • 1910-15 - Big open-geared gas tractors came into use in areas of extensive farming
  • 1910-19 - Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 6,116,700 tons
  • 1915-20 - Enclosed gears developed for tractor
  • 1918 - Small prairie-type combine with auxiliary engine introduced
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1920s

  • 1920-29 - Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 6,845,800 tons
  • 1920-40 - Gradual increase in farm production resulted from expanded use of mechanized power
  • 1926 - Cotton-stripper developed for High Plains
  • 1926 - Successful light tractor developed 
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1930s

  • 1930-39 - Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 6,599,913 tons
  • 1930's - All-purpose, rubber-tired tractor with complementary machinery came into wide use
  • 1930 - One farmer supplied 9.8 persons in the United States and abroad
  • 1930 - 15-20 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (2-1/2 acres) of corn with 2-bottom gang plow, 7-foot tandem disk, 4-section harrow, and 2-row planters, cultivators, and pickers
  • 1930 - 15-20 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (5 acres) of wheat with 3-bottom gang plow, tractor, 10-foot tandem disk, harrow, 12-foot combine, and trucks
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1940s

  •  1940-49 - Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 13,590,466 tons
  • 1940 - One farmer supplied 10.7 persons in the United States and abroad
  • 1941-45 -Frozen foods popularized
  • 1942 - Spindle cotton picker produced commercially
  • 1945-70 - Change from horses to tractors and the adoption of a group of technological practices characterized the second American agriculture agricultural revolution
  • 1945 - 10-14 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (2 acres) of corn with tractor, 3-bottom plow, 10-foot tandem disk, 4-section harrow, 4-row planters and cultivators, and 2-row picker
  • 1945 - 42 labor-hours required to produce 100 pounds (2/5 acre) of lint cotton with 2 mules, 1-row plow, 1-row cultivator, hand how, and hand pick
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1950s - Cheap Fertilizer

  • 1950-59 - Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 22,340,666 tons
  • 1950 - One farmer supplied 15.5 persons in the United States and abroad
  • 1954 - Number of tractors on farms exceeded the number of horses and mules for first times
  • 1955 - 6-12 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (4 acres) of wheat with tractor, 10-foot plow, 12-foot role weeder, harrow, 14-foot drill and self-propelled combine, and trucks
  • Late 1950's - 1960's - Anhydrous ammonia increasingly used as a cheap source of nitrogen, spurring higher yields
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1960s

  • 1960-69 - Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 32,373,713 tons
  • 1960 - One farmer supplied 25.8 persons in the United States and abroad
  • 1965 - 5 labor-hours required to produce 100 pounds (1/5 acre) of lint cotton with tractor, 2-row stalk cutter, 14-foot disk, 4-row bedder, planter, and cultivator, and 2-row harvester
  • 1965 - 5 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (3 1/3 acres) of wheat with tractor, 12-foot plow, 14-foot drill, 14-foot self-propelled combine, and trucks
  • 1965 - 99% of sugar beets harvested mechanically
  • 1965 - Federal loans and grants for water/sewer systems began
  • 1968 - 96% of cotton harvested mechanically 
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1970s

  • 1970's - No-tillage agriculture popularized
  • 1970 - One farmer supplied 75.8 persons in the United States and abroad
  • 1975 - 2-3 labor-hours required to produce 100 pounds (1/5 acre) of lint cotton with tractor, 2-row stalk cutter, 20-foot disk, 4 -row bedder and planter, 4-row cultivator with herbicide applicator, and 2-row harvester
  • 1975 - 3-3/4 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (3 acres) of wheat with tractor, 30-foot sweep disk, 27-foot drill, 22-foot self-propelled combine, and trucks
  • 1975 - 3-1/3 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (1-1/8 acres) of corn with tractor, 5-bottom plow, 20-foot tandem disk, planter, 20-foot herbicide applicator, 12-foot self-propelled combine, and trucks
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1980s-90s

  • 1980's - More farmers used no-till or low-till methods to curb erosion
  • 1987 - 1-1/2 to 2 labor-hours required to produce 100 pounds (1/5 acre) of lint cotton with ​tractor, 4-row stalk cutter, 20-foot disk, 6-row bedder and planter, 6-row cultivator with herbicide applicator, and 4-row harvester
  • 1987 - 3 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (3 acres) of wheat with tractor, 35-foot sweep disk, 30-foot drill, 25-foot self-propelled combine, and trucks
  • 1987 - 2-3/4 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (1-1/8 acres) of corn with a tractor, 5-bottom plow, 25-foot tandem disk, planter, 25-foot herbicide applicator, 15-foot self-propelled combine, and trucks
  • 1989 - After several slow years, the sale of farm equipment rebounded
  • 1989 - More farmers began to use low-input sustainable agriculture (LISA) techniques to decrease chemical applications