Growing a Nation

Historical Timeline — Farm Machinery & Technology

17th-18th Centuries

18th century
Oxen and horses for power, crude wooden plows, all sowing by hand, cultivating by hoe, hay and grain cutting with sickle, and threshing with flail

1790s
Cradle and scythe introduced; invention of cotton gin (1793); Thomas Jefferson's plow with moldboard of least resistance tested (1794)

1793
Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin, which contributes to the success of cotton as a Southern cash crop

1797
Charles Newbold patents first cast-iron plow

1800

1801
Thomas Moore of Maryland invents the icebox refrigerator

1819
Jethro Wood patents iron plow with interchangeable parts

1819-25
U.S. food canning industry established

1820

1830
About 250-300 labor-hours 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; John Lane manufactures plows faced with steel saw blades

1837
John Deere and Leonard Andrus begin manufacturing steel plows; practical threshing machine patented

1840

1840s
Factory-made agricultural machinery increases farmers' need for cash and encourages commercial farming

1841
Practical grain drill patented

1842
First grain elevator, Buffalo, NY

1843
Sir John Lawes founded the commercial fertilizer industry by developing a process for making superphosphate

1844
Practical mowing machine patented

1847
Irrigation begun in Utah

1849
Mixed chemical fertilizers sold commercially

1850
About 75-90 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (2 ½ acres) of corn with walking plow, harrow, and hand planting

1850-70
Expanded market for agricultural products spurs adoption of improved technology resulting increases in farm production

1854
Self-governing windmill perfected

1856
Two-horse straddle-row cultivator patented

1858
Mason jars, used for home canning, were invented

1860

1862-75
Change from hand power to horses characterizes the first American agricultural revolution

1865-75
Gang plows and sulky plows come into use

1868
Steam tractors are tried out

1869
Spring-tooth harrow for seedbed preparation appears

1870s
Silos and deep-well drilling come into use

1874
Glidden barbed wire patented; fencing of rangeland ends era of unrestricted, open-range grazing

1880

1880
William Deering puts 3,000 twine binders on the market

1881
Hybridized corn produced

1884-90
Horse-drawn combine used in Pacific coast wheat areas

1888
The first long haul shipment of a refrigerated freight car was made from California to New York

1890-95
Cream separators come into wide use

1890-99
Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer; 1,845,900 tons

1890s
Agriculture becomes increasingly mechanized and commercialized

1890
40-50 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (5 acres) of wheat with gang plow, seeder, harrow, binder, thresher, wagons, and horses; 35-40 labor-hours 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

1892
The first gasoline tractor was built by John Froelich

1900

1900-09
Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer 3,738,300 tons

1900-10
George Washington Carver of Tuskegee Institute finds new uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans, helping to diversify southern agriculture

1905
The first business devoted exclusively to making tractors is established

1910

1910-19
Commercial fertilizer use: 6,116,700 tons/year

1910-15
Big open-geared gas tractors introduced in areas of extensive farming

1915-20
Enclosed gears developed for tractor

1918
Small prairie-type combine with auxiliary engine introduced

1920

1920-29
Commercial fertilizer use: 6,845,800 tons/year

1920-40
Farm production gradually grows from expanded use of mechanized power

1926
Cotton-stripper developed for High Plains; successful light tractors developed

1928
Otto Rohwedder introduced his bread-slicing machine

1930

1930-39
Commercial fertilizer use: 6,599,913 tons/year

1930s
All-purpose, rubber-tired tractor with complementary machinery popularized

1930
One farmer supplies, on average, 9.8 in the United States and abroad; 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, 2-row planters, cultivators, and pickers; 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

1940

1940-49
Commercial fertilizer use: 13,590,466 tons/year

1940
One farmer supplies 10.7 persons (est.)

1941-45
Frozen foods popularized

1942
Spindle cottonpicker produced commercially

1945-70
Change from horses to tractors and increasing technological practices characterize the second American agricultural revolution; productivity per acre begins sharp rise

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; 42 labor-hours required to produce 100 pounds (2/5 acre) of lint cotton with 2 mules, 1-row plow, 1-row cultivator, hand hoe, and hand pick

1950

1950-59
Commercial fertilizer use: 22,340,666 tons/year

1950
One farmer supplies 15.5 persons (est.)

1951
Organic chemicals called chelates are found to help protect plants against certain metal deficiencies

1954
Number of tractors on farms exceeds the number horses and mules for the first time

1955
6 1/2 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (4 acres) of wheat with tractor, 10- foot plow, 12-foot row weeder, harrow, 14-foot drill, self-propelled combine and trucks.

Late 1950s
Anhydrous ammonia increasingly used as cheap source of nitrogen, boosting yields

1959
Mechanical tomato harvester developed

1960

1960-69
Commercial fertilizer use: 32,373,713 tons/year

1960
One farmer supplies 25.8 persons (est.)

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, cultivator, and 2-row harvester

5 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (3 acres) of wheat with tractor, 12- foot plow, 14-foot drill, 14-foot self-propelled combine, and trucks; 99% of sugar beets harvested mechanically; Federal loans and grants for water/sewer systems

1968
96% of cotton harvested mechanically

1970

1970-79
Commercial fertilizer use: 43,643,700 tons/year

1970s
No-tillage agriculture popularized

1970
One farmer supplies 47.7 persons (est.)

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

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; 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

1980

1980-89
Commercial fertilizer use: 47,411,166 tons/year
1980s
More farmers use no-till or low-till methods to curb erosion

1980
One farmer supplies 75.7 persons (est.)

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

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; 2-3/4 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

1989
After several slow years, the sale of farm equipment rebounds; more farmers begin to use low-input sustainable agriculture (LISA) techniques to reduce chemical applications

1990-2000

1990
One farmer supplies 100 persons (est.)

1990s
Information technology and precision techniques increasingly used in agriculture

1994
Farmers begin using satellite technology to track and plan their farming practices. The user of conservation tillage methods, which leave crop residues in the field to combat erosion, continues to rise. FDA grants first approval for a whole food produced through biotechnology, the FLAVRSAVR™ tomato. Farm Bureau celebrates its 75th anniversary. U.S. Congress approves General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), helping liberalize world trade

1997
The first weed and insect—resistant biotech crops-soybeans and cotton—are available commercially

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