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  < Back to Table Of Contents  < Back to Topic: Local Histories, Pictures & Event Archives

article number 659
article date 04-25-2017
copyright 2017 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Farm Machinery Allows Our Settlement of the Open Plains of Kansas and the Dakotas. 1850-1880
by Everett Dick, Ph. D., Union College, Lincoln Nebraska
   

From the 1937 book, The Sod-House Frontier, 1854-1890.

* * *

AMONG the first inventions to ease the load of the toiling farmer were those perfecting mechanical devices for lightening the work of harvesting and threshing grain.

As early as 1831 in the Shenandoah Valley, Cyrus McCormick had brought forth a mechanical harvester. The machine was unwieldy amid stumps and hills, however, and did not come into wide use until the great prairie wheat lands with their broad level fields, unhampered by stump or stone, were opened to settlement.

The great impetus to the increased use of machinery resulted from the Civil War. The imperative need for breadstuffs sent prices soaring. A surplus of money during the War boom, and a shortage of man-power, caused the displacement of men in the harvest field.

In the days before the War the trans-Missouri farmer had harvested his little patch of grain with a cradle and bound it in the same fashion as it had been done since the dawn of history.

The Kirby Patent Harvester which reached the prairie frontier during the early part of the Civil War, was a crude machine constructed somewhat on the order of the present day binder with a platform and reel. The reel knocked the grain onto the platform.

Two men operated the machine. The driver sat immediately over the bull wheel; the second man, directly behind him with a rake, pulled the grain off onto the ground where it lay in gavels and was bound up by five to eight men; depending on the heaviness of the grain, each binding station covered a fifth to an eighth of the field.*

* The binder of today has the bull wheel on the opposite end of the machine and the machines travel around the field in the opposite direction from the Kirby, which worked like a mowing machine.

The man on each station bound up his portion of the swath while the reaper was making the next circuit of the field. In the evening cutting was stopped and all hands shocked the grain.

The small acreage grown then made it possible for the owner of one of these machines to cut all the grain in the community. He secured labor largely in exchange for this service.

Before the War was over the self-raking reaper appeared. It was operated by one man, the driver only. The machine, as its name indicates, raked the bunches off automatically.

Binding on station was grueling work of a competitive nature. The man on station kicked the gavel together with his feet while he jerked a handful of wheat from the sheaf. With a quick twirl of the wrist he spliced a straw band, stooped to gather the grain in his arms, and rose with the bundle on his knee. With a fast pull and a twirl over his thumb, finally tucking in the end, he dropped the bundle into the stubble and rushed to the next gavel.

To allow the machine to make a round before the man had all his station bound was a disgrace. A hand who allowed that was said to be “doubled.”

Binders vied with one another in contests of endurance and speed. Individual binders would urge the driver to go faster in order to disgrace the worker on some other station. The whip cracked, and faster and faster the horses went around the field until one or more binders were “doubled.”

The self-rake was the last word in the harvest field for a decade. In the early seventies the Marsh harvester came out and immediately it became the popular machine from the Red River Valley in the north to Kansas. This was the first machine used extensively in the trans-Missouri and Red River regions. This implement may be said to be the first prairie harvesting machine.

   
The Marsh Type of Harvester. The first grain harvester on the paries, widely used between 1875 and 1883. Courtesy of the International Harvester Company.

The harvester elevated the grain over the bull wheel by means of slatted endless canvas aprons and delivered it in a stream upon a table. There two men, standing in a box-like compartment, alternately seized armfuls from the stream and bound them with straw as on station.

It was severe work, in some ways more taxing than binding at station. Hour after hour the men bound until their hands became raw and bleeding from the briars and smarting from the rust spores on the grain.

A harvester averaged ten acres a day. After a twelve hour day the tired binder, having taken care of his five acres of grain, was ready to rest his weary muscles.

Three men and a boy could run this outfit. The boy drove the machine, two men bound, and a third shocked.

In spite of the severity of the work the harvester was a marked improvement over the reaper, for two men could bind as much as four on the ground. Then, too, the labor of walking and gathering the grain from the hot ground was at an end because a sunshade protected the operators while the motion of the machine kept a breeze stirring.

Harvest started while the wheat was still unripe because in most communities many acres were cut by a single machine. The crew, therefore, worked at break-neck speed to get the grain harvested before it became too dry and brittle to bind well. This condition came altogether too soon.

The machine was then operated in the morning and evening hours. At times the harvesting became a night task lighted by the feeble yellow glow of the lantern.

In the late seventies the self-binder came into use. It was similar to the harvester except that a mass of machinery replaced the two binders. When sufficient grain for a sheaf had accumulated, a wire was drawn around the bundle, a knife cut it, and a mechanical foot kicked it to the ground.

It was a heavy machine but with it two men could cut, bind, and stack more grain than a crew of six or eight could in the days of the self-rake reaper. In a short time every farmer had a self-binder.

About 1880 the Wood Company brought out a twine binder. About the same time McCormick and Deering put on the market the Appleby binder which became standard within five years.

During the seventies another machine, the header, was manufactured which came into general use in some sections, especially in the western part of the prairie region. It was a large machine which cut a swath nearly twice as wide as the binder.

As its name indicates, it merely clipped the heads off the wheat and elevated them into a tight hayrack which was driven alongside this machine until it was filled. The heads were then stacked.

The header was more popular in the South but the binder continued to be a favorite in the North where threshing was done from the shock.

   
Deering harvester with twine binder.

* * *

In the seventies the nomadic harvest hand originated. He came to bind on station and later to shock or care for headed grain. Like birds of passage, these wanderers began on the Oklahoma line in June and moved northward as the grain ripened, finally ending the season amid the frost of Dakota or Canada.

The straggling settlers of Civil War times threshed the harvest from their little patches with the flail. As their acreage increased they threshed it by allowing the horses or cattle to tread it out.

In some places a little treadmill cylinder was used after a settler’s crop increased. This threshed the grain but did not separate it from the chaff.

The chaff was separated by winnowing or by using a fanning mill after such a machine was available in the seventies. In winnowing, the wheat was poured from a little height onto a canvas or into a large vessel while a gentle breeze blew the lighter wheat and chaff away.

In the seventies the acreage was large enough to warrant the use of the complete thresher and separator.*

* In the older settled regions the threshing machine had been in use for some years.

The first threshing machines were manufactured by J. I. Case or Buffalo Pitts. The outfit was made up of three units, a separator, a horse power, and a trap wagon.

On the move between jobs each unit was in charge of a member of the permanent crew of three. The owner had charge of the separator, the most expensive unit. His team served as wheel horses. It was customary for the neighbor whose farm was next to be visited to supply the lead team of four horses required to move the separator.

In Brookings County, Dakota Territory, in 1873, one of the first machines in the state, a J. I. Case agitator separator, a Woodbury mounted power, and a trap wagon, threshed 15,000 bushels in three months.

The homesteaders changed work, and crews were constantly assembled from a territory stretching over thirty miles.

It was necessary for the hands to camp in the straw-pile at night for it was obviously impossible to entertain them in the dugouts and equally impossible to daily traverse the distance to their homes. When it grew colder the floors of the little dwellings were covered with straw and the men slept indoors.

The mounted power for one of these machines consisted of five long levers called “sweeps” which like spokes of a wheel, radiated from a central hub. This hub was attached to large cogwheels.

Five teams of horses attached to the sweeps, traveled in a large circle exerting the force which was transmitted from the cogwheels to long “tumbling rods” with knuckle joints to the separator some rods away. The power was anchored to the ground by long stakes.

   
A Horse-Power Threshing Machine. Courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society.

The driver stood on a square platform above the giant cogwheels of the power, around which the horses moved. His was no easy job for the horses had to be kept at a steady gait. In cold weather it was tiresome indeed to stand throughout the day in the sharp wind.

Ordinarily the farmers for whom the threshing was done furnished the horses. Thus horses as well as men exchanged work during the threshing season.

In addition to the driver two other men composed the machine crew. The second man “tended” the separator. Oil can in hand, in a great cloud of dust, he watched the sieves, felt of the pinions, and in general kept the machine in order.

The third man “fed” the machine. Taking each bundle in the hollow of his arm, he spread it out into a thin golden band which was caught between the whirling teeth of the cylinder and the concave and torn into shreds.

At the other end of the machine a stream of straw poured over the elevated stacker engulfing the man who tramped about in an endeavor to stack it. As the perspiring stacker tramped about in the cloud of mounting dust, his face was soon as black as a negro’s.

The three members of the thresher crew shifted their job somewhat with the following schedule. The first man would feed the machine while running out about one hundred bushels of oats. The second man would then step onto the feeding platform and relieve the first feeder who would tend the machine. A little later the man on the horse power would feed the machine while the second took his place, and so on.

Two men were kept busy sacking and weighing the yellow stream of grain which flowed from the machine. After wheat growing became extensive the straw was considered a nuisance and was disposed of by a boy who, with a horse attached to each end of a long pole, dragged it away from the machine to be burned.

Suddenly in the midst of the day’s work a crash would cause the men to run, seize the horses’ bridles, and stop the machine while repairs were made. This was a welcome relief to the hired hands. On these occasions the young fellows had a wrestling or lifting match and the air was literally full of jokes.

   
Horse-powered threshing. Eight horses, two hitched on four sides.

As grain growing on a large scale came into vogue, improvements in threshers advanced. An engine on wheels replaced the mounted power in the seventies, relieving the horses of the neighborhood from an odious task, and the separator roared and rattled like a modern machine.

Whereas in the earlier day the grain had been taken from the shock and stacked in a stack-yard preparatory to threshing, the process was now done in the field directly from the shock. The machine moved into the field and “set.” Teams hauled the grain to the separator.

Nomadic hands to a large extent began to supplant the old exchange system. This was particularly true of the threshing done early in the season for there was no chance for an exchange of labor.

By 1880 the straw-burning engine was a success and was used in the North. By 1885 the traction engine had been introduced. This was a great saving. Before that time it was necessary to bring in all the teams from the field stopping everything while the horses were used to move the engine and separator to a new “set” in the ever-expanding acreages. A crew of twenty men was idle while the horses worked.

With traction engines, moving was done without extra men or teams, and when the machine reached the new position bundles awaited its devouring maw.

* With the straw-burning engine three men were required for an engine crew. It took the full time of a fireman to fire and draw ashes. A water hauler supplied that item and the engineer had charge of the engine. A sixteen horse power threshed from 1,000 to 1,200 bushels a day.

* * *

The little patches before the Civil War were sown by hand. The sower placed a rag on a pole to serve as a mark at the end of the field, and, taking half a sack of grain in a sowing pouch suspended under the arm by a strap across the shoulder, he walked straight toward his marker scattering the seed with his hand as he went. On arriving at the end of the field he moved the marker preparatory to the next “through,” and replenishing his supply of seed, returned to the other end. Often an attempt was made at covering the seed by dragging a brush harrow across the field.

When larger fields were cultivated in the seventies, the broadcast or end-gate seeder came into use. This simple machine consisted of a hopper fastened to a board in such a way that it could replace the rear end-gate of a wagon.

The hopper was filled with grain and a chain, properly geared, connected with the hub of the back wheel. The chain ran a revolving mechanism which flirted the seed in sprays ten or twelve feet from the wagon on each side. One person drove to the mark while a second with shovel in hand kept the hopper filled from the loose grain in the front of the wagon-bed. A large field was rapidly sown by this method.

Afterward it was necessary to harrow it to cover the seed.

   
Spring tooth harrow.

The great trouble with the end-gate seeder was that it sowed unevenly. In spots the grain was too thin and in others too thick. This was especially true when the wind blew as it almost always does in the spring on the plains. Then, too, unless the ground was moist the grain would not come up well.

To offset these disadvantages the seeder, a long narrow box-like affair, twelve to sixteen feet long, was mounted between two wheels. Tubes from the bottom of the box conducted the seed down into shoes which burrowed into the loose dirt and deposited the grain to the desired depth beneath the surface in uniform rows in the moist earth.

During the sixties and early seventies there was little improvement in corn planting over that of Indian agriculture. After the field had been plowed and harrowed a contrivance resembling a four-runner sled was pulled across the field. A man rode it and the weight made little furrows about four feet apart.

The entire field was rowed out in this fashion and then just before time for dropping, the sled was driven over the field crosswise in such a way as to form a checkerboard.

The soil was then ready for the “droppers.” Boys and girls walked along digging their bare toes into the cool moist dirt, dropping three or four kernels at each intersection. After they got used to it they could walk along at a steady gait dropping the grain swiftly and accurately. Behind them came two skilful hoe men with light hoes covering each hill at a stroke.

By the late seventies the Deere “rotary drop” corn planter was used in a limited way. It had two seats, one on each side of the axle, to lighten the load on the horses’ necks. The driver occupied one place and the dropper the other. The latter dropped the corn by a lever. Such a planter was hired in the seventies and eighties at ten cents an acre.

The wire check rower was first advertised in western farm papers about 1880. With this machine a wire was stretched from one end of the field to the other. About every four feet there was a knot or ball on the line. The planter was driven down the wire and the knots jerked the dropper. This is essentially the same planter that is used widely today.*

* A man in Holdrege, Nebraska, invented a sod corn planter. There were two rolling coulters which cut through the sod in front of the sled-like shoes allowing the grains of corn to drop into the sod.

John Deere, a blacksmith from Vermont, settled in Grand Detour, Illinois, and there on the frontier in 1837 made a steel share for a plow out of a band saw blade. It was revolutionary and made him famous. A large, heavy, walking plow of the John Deere type with a steel share was used for breaking in the earlier years. The sharp steel blade cut the thick, tough roots of the prairie sod.

   
John Deere plow. Blade made of steel rather than iron.

By the eighties large red wheeled plows, capable of turning four furrows at a time, were used on the border. A disc gang plow was advertised in one farm paper as early as 1877.

Corn cultivators went through a similar evolution. At first a one or two shovel walking plow pulled by one horse was used. It was necessary to make a “round” in order to cultivate one row.

A little later a two horse cultivator with wheels was perfected. It straddled the row and cultivated a whole row at a “through” or two at a “round.” As early as the Civil War period, riding cultivators were used in a limited way. A contest between the Buckeye, Bradley, Sucker State, Peoria, and other makes of cultivators was held at Weponsit, Illinois, on June 18, 1864. The Sucker State won.

It is doubtful, however, whether any of these found their way to the trans-Missouri-Red River territory until the boom years of the seventies. Many older farmers, reared in toil and educated in the school of hard knocks, disdained to use a riding machine if the old walking implement did the work just as well.

It was thought to be evidence of slovenliness or laziness to sit down and to work at the same time.

A new generation held no such ideas and gladly took up any machine that eliminated hard work.

During the preëmption and early homestead period, hay was cut with the scythe and raked by hand. In Brown County, Dakota Territory, in 1877 the first settlers, three men and a woman, cut thirty tons of hay with a scythe and put it up with home-made wooden forks and a home-made horse rake.

But very soon each community had a mower. Douglas County, Kansas, had mowing machines in 1855. For two decades after that it was customary for the newer settlers to hire someone to cut hay for them.

The price of a Buckeye mower in 1872 was $123 and a rake cost ten dollars. The owner of a mower charged five or six dollars a day for cutting.

It was customary for a man to ride out on the unoccupied land of the prairie with his mower and cut a swath around the patch of hay he wanted. This act laid claim to the land laid out, and others respected it.

The rake of this time was a revolving wooden implement drawn by a horse and operated by a man walking behind it. In the eighties the riding self-dump rake appeared.

Haying time was in many ways a pleasant season. It was a time when farmers exchanged work as in threshing season but it was not accompanied with the same rush and nervous tension.

Neighbors came from their lonely fields to exchange help and to enjoy one another’s company while stacking hay. The wives occasionally came to help with the cooking and incidentally relieve the monotony of lonely cabin life. The merry chatter and congenial association made haying an occupation which the pioneer anticipated.

   

* * *

The invention of barbed wire was perhaps as revolutionary as any other invention in the period. The fencing problem was acute on the prairies. In the eastern part of the plains area, rail fences and hedges had been used extensively.

As the frontier crept westward away from the timber region in the seventies, there was an imperative need for a standard type of cheaper fence. Much experimenting took place. Considerable smooth wire was used but there were objections to it. It was expensive; it contracted in cold weather and expanded in hot; and animals learned to push through it with impunity.

Therefore, taking a leaf from nature’s scrap book, the inventors began to work upon the idea of a thorn wire with properties similar to the thorn hedges which worked so effectively. One early company manufacturing barbed wire, was known as the Thorn Wire Hedge Company.

A number of men developed the principle of placing spools or other devices carrying sharp points, on the smooth wire. Barbed wire was first manufactured in quantities at DeKalb, Illinois. Strangely enough two men at the same town began to perfect the successful type of barbed wire about the same time. Mr. J. F. Glidden, a farmer, made his first wire in 1873 and sold the first piece the next year.

Jacob Haish was a lumber dealer and building contractor who was cognizant of the great demand for lumber for fencing. He had sold Osage orange seeds to his customers and foresaw the great fencing problem. At first he thought of growing the prickly Osage orange plants and of weaving them into a smooth wire fence when they had developed.

Finally after several experiments, he came to the conclusion that iron barbs should be fastened on strands of smooth wire and these twisted into a single wire. When he showed his invention to a friend he was told that Joseph Glidden was working on the same idea. Both men secured patents in 1874* and DeKalb became a great barbed wire manufacturing center.

* Mr. Glidden’s invention actually ante-dated that of Haish.

At this time the principal manufacturer of smooth wire was the Washburn and Moen Company of Worcester, Massachusetts. Noticing large orders for smooth wire coming from DeKalb, they sent a representative to investigate.

This led to a consolidation of the Glidden interest with the eastern firm; but Haish refused to sell. Later the Haish interests and the American Steel and Wire Company which had taken over Glidden’s patent entered into a bitter controversy and litigation which involved enormous expenditures.

Barbed wire was advertised in Kansas and Nebraska in the late seventies and became common within a few years. The price declined rapidly after it went into the hands of big manufacturing concerns and soon it was within reach of the homesteader.*

* In 1874 it sold at $20 a hundred pounds, in 1880 at $10, in 1885 at $4.20, in 1890 at $3.45,and in 1897 at $1.80 a hundred.

Barbed wire greatly hastened the agrarian conquest of the plains and sharpened the conflict between the herder and the agrarian, finally wreaking the rancher’s doom.

* * *

The invention of the windmill was a boon to mankind for it transferred the drudgery of daily pumping from the over-burdened pioneer to the eternal winds of the plain. What was probably the first windmill in the region west of the Missouri River was one built at Lawrence, Kansas, in 1855. It was used more for manufacturing than for pumping water, however.

The great use to which windmills were put on the prairies was pumping water and before long, according to Walter Prescott Webb, the windmill tower was “the unmistakable and universal sign of human habitation throughout the Great Plains Area.”

   
Windmill in town.

The first windmills were manufactured the year the Kansas-Nebraska Act became a law, in 1854. The windmills manufactured at that time were designed by Daniel Halloday, a mechanic of Ellington, Connecticut. After a time, seeing there would be a great demand for them on the plains, the windmill interests moved their factory to Batavia, Illinois, and there in 1862 the manufacture was begun on a larger scale.

The main use to which mills were put in the sixties and early seventies was pumping water for the railroad locomotives. The mills were built on the European plan of furnishing a large amount of power. Most of the wheels were from sixteen to thirty feet in diameter while the ordinary farm windmill today is eight or ten feet. It was not until the late seventies that it became a common fixture on the prairies. The windmill and barbed wire invaded the plains hand in hand chronologically.

So important is the windmill today on the plains, a region of never-failing winds, that in some small towns nearly every home has one.*

* The writer remembers having camped in a small western Kansas town late in the evening. The next morning he was astonished at the large number of windmills. Without moving from the camp ground, he counted some three dozen.

On account of the larger fields and lack of obstructions, machinery came into use in the West more quickly than in the country east of the Appalachian Mountains. Travelers from the East in the eighties were astonished when they saw the station platform and the prairie around it covered with bright new machinery.

In fact the people bought too much machinery. There was a tendency, as soon as the homesteader received his patent, to mortgage the farm in order to buy machinery. Farm papers admonished their readers not to borrow money to buy machinery which would be worn out before it was paid for.

Nevertheless this is what many did; and hundreds of homesteaders finally lost their claims as a result of their lack of forethought.

* * *

In connection with the machine revolution there arose an interesting type of agriculture known as bonanza farming. Bonanza farming began in the Red River Valley in 1874, spread to other parts of Dakota, and was practiced to a limited extent in western Kansas and Nebraska.

The first bonanza farm was started by Mr. George W. Cass, president of the Northern Pacific Railway, together with a prominent member of an express company, Mr. Benjamin P. Cheney.

Real estate was a drag on the market. The company had failed to sell its lands in small lots, and so these men bought eighteen sections from the company. The tract was later increased to 12,240 acres. Mr. Oliver Dalrymple, an extensive wheat farmer of Washington County, Minnesota, was selected to manage this huge farm.

Mr. Dalrymple was a talented business man and had practiced law in his younger days. He reduced farming to mechanical precision.

The first four or five years sixteen-inch, single walking plows were used as on small farms; but by 1879 the double gang plow, drawn by four horses, replaced the single plows. A brigade of seven or eight to twenty of these would move across the field at once. They would travel about twenty miles a day each plowing five acres. Twenty such plows would plow a section in a week.

A brigade of a dozen binders in line was superintended by a field foreman on horseback. A wagon hauled twine, water, tools, and so forth, and an expert was at hand to help in any emergency. The day harvest closed, threshing began. By that time the first grain cut was well cured and ready for the threshers.

Each year new land was put under cultivation. As these farms increased in size they were organized into divisions over which a superintendent was placed. Each division was sub-divided into units or stations placed in charge of foremen.

New equipment alone for the Dalrymple farm in 1878 was thirty-eight plows, thirty-five harrows, seventeen seeders, twenty-seven binders, fifty-two wagons, and five threshing machines.

In 1879 four hundred men were required to do the threshing on sixteen units. Twenty-one threshing machines were in use. Of course, very few of these men were kept the year around.

The company endeavored to become self-sufficing as far as possible. It raised its own supplies. Meat, vegetables, and stock feed, were produced on the farms. Blacksmith shops and harness shops did the repair work.

   
Machines in Bonanza Farming. This picture of binders at work on the Dalrymple farm is only one section of a panoramic view which includes a dozen more machines. Courtesy of the Great Northern Railway.

These farms were a good investment for years because of the increase in the value of the land and because it was free from weeds.

After forty years they were broken up almost entirely. Nevertheless in the seventies the movement proceeded rapidly. By 1880 there were eighty-two farms in the Red River Valley more than 1,000 acres in area. A large number of these ran from four to six sections. The movement was just getting started by 1880 for the census of 1890 showed 232 farms that exceeded 1,000 acres.

Truly a farm in Dakota was not considered a bonanza farm until it contained over a thousand acres. In 1890 there were 930 which ranged in area from 500 to 1,000 acres. These, although not classed as bonanza farms, were nevertheless extensive and were a special frontier development.

The government allowed a man under the homestead, tree claim, and preemption acts, to secure three quarter sections. Then by buying adjacent sections from the Northern Pacific Railway whose grants extended for a distance of fifty miles back from the main line, one could establish a sizable farm.

Keenest competition existed at times for coveted quarter sections needed to fill out a block for an extensive farm. Races to the land office to secure the desired land were frequent during the boom days. Strategy was used to gain possession of land sought.

Needless to say, the ordinary home-steader was not able to secure one of these large farms. This was for the man who brought a little money with him and could, by exercising his governmental rights and perhaps by investing the money he had received from the sale of a place in the old home state, secure a big farm.

It was only natural that there should arise a tendency toward large farms in view of the general conditions of the time.

At the beginning of the decade of the seventies two men and six work animals using two fourteen-inch plows, could plow five or six acres a day. At the end of the decade one man with a gang plow could cover as much with four animals. By 1885 a man regularly drove four-horse teams.

If a man had fifty acres of field grain he had to have a $235 binder to cut it. He used it only the five days necessary and it remained idle the rest of the year with his money tied up in it.

In order to secure the maximum benefit he prepared as quickly as possible to cultivate a hundred acres on each quarter section and to cut it with the same binder. The interest on the investment was about the same whether he cut fifty or a hundred acres, and the depreciation was but little greater.

Improvements were being made so rapidly that a machine, no matter how little worn, was soon rendered useless or wasteful when compared to some later perfected model.

It was then good economy to utilize machinery to its utmost capacity every year.

This meant large farms.

   
Harvester cutting and lifting wheat.

* * *

Other improved and labor-saving devices appeared to lighten the burden of the farmer. The old-fashioned square lantern with its candle within was displaced by the kerosene lantern. This was a boon indeed to the man who worked by artificial illumination both in the morning and evening during the winter months.

A machine to shell corn was invented during the later pioneer period.

Labor-saving devices for women were introduced slowly. There was a tendency for the homesteader to buy new machinery to till broad acres and build new barns to house more stock and grain, while his wife went about the drudgery of household life in the old way in a little drab dwelling overshadowed by the splendor of machine farming.

The earliest improvements came in the Civil War period when crude washing machines and wringers made their appearance. The original washing machine while some improvement over washing on the board, was not a magic contrivance. The wringer was no doubt more successful and efficient than the machine.

The sewing machine began to come into general use in the eighties. Its coming was not an unmixed blessing for it brought in its van a plague of agents who pestered the people in an endeavor to convince them of the superior merits of their respective machines. The "New Home," the "White," and the "Singer," were some of the outstanding makes.

The invention of pumps was a great boon to the farm woman. At first she carried water from a spring or water barrel. Later, when a well was dug, a pulley with its chain and a bucket on each end simplified matters somewhat, but the invention of the pump was the greatest boon to the lady of the house. The first pumps were made of wood, but later those of iron manufacture displaced them.

The windmill with its free lift of water made life even more comfortable.

Illumination at first had been by means of grease dish or candle. In the seventies this gave way to the kerosene lamp. It was a tremendous improvement but the never-ending chore of filling kerosene lamps and cleaning sooty chimneys added another burden to the already overloaded housewife.

The preparation of meals was at first over a fire in a crude fireplace, while the utensils consisted of a teakettle, a Dutch oven, a skillet, a large iron kettle, and a coffee pot. The coming of the kitchen range with its oven and reservoir was a blessing to the frontier woman.

Organs came into use during the frontier period and an occasional piano was seen.

Rag carpets, a great improvement in frontier days, were displaced gradually by factory manufactured carpets.

For the most part, however, the machine age did not greatly help woman. She continued to operate the churn, carry water, and run the washing machine — if she were fortunate enough to have one — and do her other work without the aid of horse power which her more fortunate husband began to apply in his harvesting, threshing, and planting.

   
"For the most part, however, the machine age did not greatly help woman."
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