While mowing my yard this week on my John Deere riding mower, I was reminded of the mower at the Buffalo Island Museum. It is a push reel mower from the early 1900's, made by the Great States Corp, Shelbyville, Indiana. It has a wooden handle with metal blades and rubber covered wheels. Prior to the early 1800's, home lawn care was largely using a scythe, a swing blade or grazing animals. A lot of homes on Buffalo Island had dirt yards. I remember my grandmother taking a hoe to any stray grass or weeds that appeared in her front yard of hard packed sand.
Edwin Budding invented the first reel lawn mower in 1827. He advertised it as a way to get healthful exercise. The mower was made of cast iron with a large rear roller with a cutting reel in front. Several inventers tried to improve the mower and in 1870, Elwood McGuire from Indiana designed a better version using less moving parts making it lighter and easier to use.
By 1885, the United States was producing mowers and shipping them
all over the world.
In 1893 James Summer of England patented a steam powered lawn mower, but it was a heavy machine which took several hours to warm up. It was in 1902 that the first gasoline powered mower was available. The first riding mowers were chain driven where the operator would ride behind animals that pulled the large mower.
It would be hard work to mow a large yard with the old reel mower. But today with the "green movement" being in the news, these reel lawnmowers are available at most hardware stores. They have steel blades, a lightweight frame, and ball-bearing wheels and cost around $100. They are purchased mostly by people with a small yard who like the idea of no gas fumes.
Visit the museum on Fridays and Saturdays 12:30-4:00. Admission is free.
Visit our Facebook page for more information, pictures, and to enter our monthly BIM Mystery Artifact contest. Remember the free Quilt show on September 22.