The Wheeled Plough

The Wheeled Plough

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A plough produced a deep furrow and turned the earth after it had been cut by the coulter and share. A wheeled plough enabled the ploughing depth to be controlled. However, in wet weather the wheels became clogged up with mud and was therefore difficult to use. Wheeled ploughs were mainly used on sandy soils and rarely in heavy clay areas, where moulboard ploughs were popular.

The Plow

The earliest plows where forked sticks and timbers. In the middle east the early plows were called ard. The early plows simply loosened the soil. (19F) A type of ard is still used in some underdeveloped countries today.

The major advance before 1000 A.D. was the development of the heavy plough, which was more than the simple plows farmers used earlier. It had a coulter which cut a thin strip in the turf. The coulter was followed by a share which would slice into the soil and then the soil would ride up the mouldboard which would turn it over. Later wheels were attached to this type of plow and later still a seat was added. By turning over the soil weeds were limited and overall it helped the growing process.

Metal was added to parts of the plow which increased it's efficiency. One of the major problems was that the dirt would become stuck on the plow and had to be cleaned off by hand. A second problem was that this system did not work in the dense grasses of the western plains. (19F)

The problem of the plains was solved by a black smith from Vermont named John Deere. Deere moved to Grand Detour, Illinois in 1836. He invented a blade which was self polishing and combined the share and moldboard into a one piece plow. Deere moved his factory to Moline Illinois and began manufacturing in 1847. The blade was an amazing hit and began the John Deere company. (19F)

Early farming utilized oxen ("any kind of cattle used for draft, or pulling work, are called oxen" (18F, pg 8) in the fields. These animals appear to be first used around 3500 B.C. with primitive plows made of wood.(18F) In Europe the invention of the horse collar and shoe in the 9th century allowed the plow to be pulled by horse. Yet even into the 18th century oxen still outnumber the horses partly due to the expense of feeding the horse. (17F) Yet with the advent of the iron plows many farmers changed over to heavy horses which could pull the new type of implements at a faster pace than the oxen. (18F)

Parallel Innovations

It wasn't simply the invention of wheels alone that created these changes. Wheels are most useful in combination with suitable draft animals such as horses and oxen, as well as prepared roadways. The earliest planked roadway we know of, Plumstead in the United Kingdom, dates to about the same time as the wheel, 5,700 years ago. Cattle were domesticated about 10,000 years ago and horses probably about 5,500 years ago.

Wheeled vehicles were in use across Europe by the third millennium BCE, as evidenced by the discovery of clay models of high sided four-wheeled carts throughout the Danube and Hungarian plains, such as that from the site of Szigetszentmarton in Hungary. More than 20 wooden wheels dated to the late and final Neolithic have been discovered in different wetland contexts across central Europe, between about 3300–2800 BCE.

Wheels were invented in the Americas, too, but because draft animals were not available, wheeled vehicles were not an American innovation. Trade flourished in the Americas, as did craft specialization, imperialism and wars, road construction, and the expansion of settlements, all without wheeled vehicles: but there's no doubt that having the wheel did drive (pardon the pun) many social and economic changes in Europe and Asia.

The History of the Wheel Hoe

Reproduced with the permission of the author, Professor John R. Stilgoe of Harvard University, from "Scientific Authority & Twentieth Century America" (Baltimore: John Hopkins Univ. Press).

Modern versions of the Planet Jr wheel hoes are for sale here

NOTE: The author defines pluggers as turn-of-the-century small farmers who "through continuous hard work, attention to details, and above all common sense prospered - or at least endured. Pluggers understood farming as a way of life in which 'the farm is the greatest and most important of all factories' and the family home."

Beginning of the book excerpt:

By 1890 the Philadelphia manufacturer of one-horse farming tools known as the Planet Jr. Line had proven beyond doubt the nearly insatiable market for small-scale farming implements. S.L. Allen and Company prospered by discounting USDA precepts, and it continually enlarged its niche in American agricultural manufacturing. Its success demonstrated the inherent genius of Jonathan Robinson and other mid-century inventors of devices useful to pluggers.

Essentially, Allen and Company prospered by selling lightweight, multipurpose machines that farmers pushed. Gradually, the firm expanded into a line of tools pulled by a single horse, and in the first decades of the new century it manufactured not only implements designed to by pulled by small gasoline powered tractors but also its own tiny, two-wheeled, engine-driven garden tractors guided by walking farmers. From its beginnings in the late 1870s, the firm focused its efforts on the recreational gardeners as well as one-horse farmers, flourishing as suburbanization gathered force, of course, but succeeding, too, by serving a large group of farmers all but ignored by government-backed researchers and the large implement manufacturers of Chicago, Moline, and other Midwestern cities. But a powerful devotion to the experimentation shaped company policy, too, and may well explain company successes.

While the firm consistently emphasized that its head "has always been and is today a practical farmer himself, and therefore in position to know what farmers want," continuous "careful experiment in the field" lay behind the continuous refinements in the tools. The firm conducted trials on its own test plots, but it brought customers into its efforts by manufacturing and selling more the one version of a tool and asking customers buying the hopefully improved version to report back to the company. In 1892, for example, the firm offered only the new version of the "combined drill" (a device that planted seeds automatically), having sent out the year before some of the new drills, "with special requests in each box to report to us after trial." Precisely how the policy worked cannot be determined, but the rapid design changes and frequent references to customer trials suggest that the firm intended its catalogues as educational literature as well as sales brochures. Simply put, Allen and Company had to assume the difficult burden of convincing one-horse farmers, who were scorned by government-backed experts as hopelessly hidebound, that a new tool would prove profitable. Moreover, the convincing proved complex, for not only did it involve generalities, it also involved all the specifics of every machine and accessory. And the firm determined that it must entertain the suggestions from its customers. As the decades passed, its catalogues evolved from fairly straightforward, detailed product descriptions to booklets describing an alternative, largely metropolitan agriculture of small holdings and few implements.

Push wheel hoes and Automatic seed drills:

history the firm emphasized its push wheel hoes and automatic seed drills, devices equipped with all manner of gadgets and practically impossible to describe briefly. Wheel hoes came with one wheel or two: single wheel machines typically ran between rows of plants and sliced off or tore up weeds, while two-wheel machines straddled one row of plants and sliced off weeds on either side. Drills deposited seed in perfect intervals, in one operations opening a furrow, depositing seeds ranging in size from tiny (celery or onion) to large (bean) at intervals set by the operator, and covering and tamping the dropped seeds, all the while marking the next parallel row. The firm claimed that with wheel hoes "one can plant four times his usually acreage of hoed crops from drilled seeds, without fear of being caught in their cultivation," Fourfold efficiency increases depended on the seed drill as well as the wheel hoe, of course, and Allen and Company manufactured combination tools like the "Combined Drill, Wheel Hoe, Cultivator, Rake, and Plow," an 1892 near-top-of-the-line tool. "Every purchaser of this machine will find it an excellent seed sower a first-class double-wheel how while plants are small a first-class single-wheel hoe an excellent furrower an admirable wheel cultivator a capital garden rake a rapid and efficient wheel garden plow, and it is without an equal in a variety of tools, easy adjustment, lightness, strength, and beauty, and as a practical everyday time and labor saver." Allen tools had very specific applications, indeed, and in the end, that proved important to the man - or woman - with five acres of celery to plant and cultivate.

It proved of importance to children, too. Allen and Company understood the role of children in the small fields of the one-horse farm, and it created smaller-sized machines for young pushers. The Planet Jr. single-wheel hoe "is light and well suited for the use of boys or girls," the firm claimed, emphasizing that the height of the heel could be changed "to suit the depth of work and height of the operator combined" and that attachments were easily interchanged, "a great advantage to beginners or when the tool is placed in unpracticed hands." But the model had other uses. "In some very tough soils beaten down by rain, it is even profitable sometimes for a man to use a single hoe and go rapidly along." In the end, the boy ought to use the exceptionally lightweight Fire-Fly wheel hoe, "a good tool for the boys and a pleasant one though a thorough, strong, all day tool for a hard-working laborer," for after all, boys lacked the energy reserves of grown men.

Serving the One-Horse farmer and gardener:

The firm understood that most of its customers owned a horse, usually a general-purpose animal not particularly powerful. But the horse plowed and harrowed the small fields that, thereafter, were worked by push tools, and if the small-scale farmer owned too much arable land for a wheel hoe or two, he might buy one of the firm's "one-horse cultivating tools." Diminutive by Western standards, the "tool can be used in the most delightful manner for hoeing a crop closely, saving an immense amount of work in all crops which are usually hoed by hand. It is particularly useful to the marker gardener and trucker, and to broom-corn growers, and, in fact, to all who grow crops where hand work must be done." Accessories and different models enabled growers to cultivate beneath leafed-out plants, in vineyards, and along rows of sweet potatoes. One very special tool, the celery hiller (first marketed in 1888), enabled growers to throw earth into celery and so to blanch it. But whatever its innovations, until late in the 1890s the firm intended its tools to be pulled by one horse.

After the financial panic of the early 1890s, Allen and Company entered the larger-farm market with a two-horse, pivot-wheel cultivator, but in its 1897 catalogue it explained that its recent efforts had focused chiefly on developing labor-saving tools for financially straitened small-scale farmers and market gardeners. For the first time, the firm began emphasizing large market gardens owned and operated wholly by women - perhaps by women whose husbands were forced to work full-time away from the land. Within a few years the firm had become established in the medium-scale farm market, but it continued its emphasis on one-horse farmers until massive technological change forced substantial reorientation.

By 1920 many Allen and Company customers no longer owned horses. Instead, they owned automobiles for commuting to work and, sometimes, for delivering their produce. And very quickly the customers learned the difficulty of being without horses in springtime, when plowing had to be done when weather and soil conditions permitted. This moment in American agriculture history, a moment reaching across a ten-year period between 1918 and 1928, passed unnoticed by government-backed experts but not by Allen and Company. By 1925 it was shifting its emphasis to recreational gardeners unfamiliar with wheel hoe technology, explaining in a free booklet, A Good Garden is Half of a Good Living, how to manage a very large home garden with little effort and a combination wheel hoe and seeder. Of course, West Coast competition had begun to destroy the established operations of eastern metropolitan market gardeners, and the firmed moved swiftly to extol the healthful exercise resulting from pushing its machines - anything to expand its recreational gardening market. Throughout the 1920s its catalogues edged toward being how-to books aimed not only at experienced market gardeners and other small-scale farmers but at newcomers - both hobbyist and profit-oriented venturers. Yet not until 1930 did the firm perfect its ten-year researched response to the horseless one-horse farmers.

The Two-wheel garden tractor:

Its garden tractor eliminated all need for horse-powered implements, at least on land already in cultivation, and sometimes eliminated the need for pushed machines, too. The garden tractor boasted a noisy gasoline engine riding between two large, spoked, metal wheels and pulling the same attachments the firm sold with its pushed machines, although made of steel rather than cast iron (the garden tractor snapped iron attachments when it crashed into hidden rocks). Proud as it was of the machine, the company often advertised it negatively, explaining what it was not. "The Planet Jr. is not an all purpose tractor," it argued in 1930. "It will not pull a large plow through heavy sod. It will not do the type of cultivation expected of a large tractor." What it did was replace the light-duty of the horse. "It is primarily a cultivator of narrow-row vegetable crops, and for that purpose is second to none." Most growers, the firm admitted bluntly, used it "to do the work of wheel hoes," and a few determined large-scale growers used several of them in concert to work fields of a hundred acres of spinach and other crops, apparently because the men "guiding" them tried much less quickly than if they pushed wheel hoes, even the Fire-Fly.

During the Great Depression:

Around 1930 the firm realized the diminishing resources of so many of its customers and the fierce competition of the tiny gasoline-powered cultivating tractor on which farmers rode, especially the International Harvester Farmall and its diminutive successor, the Farmall Cub. A one-horse farmer might never buy a garden tractor, or might buy a riding tractor, or might stick with an old horse until its death put him out of business. Many market gardeners simply sold their acreage to real estate speculators, and many hobbyist gardeners simply did not need an engine-driven tractor of any sort. In the depths of the Depression the firm abandoned its horse-drawn and engine-driven products and struggled to keep its decades-old pushed products for sale to those pluggers who understood them to be what they had always been: low-cost, productivity-increasing machines.

However important the tens of thousands of wheel hoes sold by Allen and Company, and its competitors, they are remarkably absent from government-sponsored research and educational literature. Indeed, their absence is almost extraordinary. Not only did experiment stations and other branches of the increasingly massive federal and state supported system publish nothing devoted specifically to wheel hoes, they rarely mentioned wheel hoes in reports on crops for which wheel hoes were ideally suited. No government-backed expert attempted to improve the wheel hoe and wheel hoe accessory design, or to evaluate models made by competing manufacturers, or perhaps most important, to instruct farmers and pleasure gardeners in their use. The vast late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century crop growing literature barely mentions wheel hoes.

The never-ending Wheel Diameter debate:

while, government-supported researchers did cite the advantages of wheel hoes. In its 1893 Strawberries, The Agricultural Experiment Station of the Rhode Island College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts aimed its advice at three groups of readers: large-scale farmers, pleasure gardeners, and small-scale farmers. For the large-scale farmers it offered detailed information, including a line drawing, on the wondrous advantages of a wheel hoe. "The best hand cultivator that we have used for this purpose is the 'Success,' manufactured by Messrs. Kirkwood, Miller & Co., of Peoria, Il. The wheel of this cultivator is thirty inches in diameter, with its bearings nearly directly over the center of the draft." Everything about the machine was efficient. "It is easily operated and its work is very satisfactory. With it one man can often kill as many weeds and loosen the soil about the plants as nicely as three or more men with hoes." Was it more satisfactory than Allen and Company machines? Apparently so, for in singling out the Success the Rhode Island Experiment Station implied that the large-wheel machine triumphed over the small-wheel variety manufactured much closer to home.

In the decade in which Americans embraced the bicycle, the big-wheel/little-wheel controversy about wheel hoes may have seemed of value only to one-horse farmers. Yet clearly Allen and Company believed its small-wheel design to be far superior to anything developed by its competitors. The Philadelphia firm marketed its wheel hoes with fourteen- or fifteen-inch wheels because small wheels let operators get very near seedling plants without injuring them. But large-wheeled machines, those with wheels two feet or more in diameter, pushed far more easily, and by the 1920s, appear to have equaled the popularity of small-wheeled ones, although the many attachments of Allen wheel hoes enabled the company to dominate the market.

What explains the rarity of statements like that made by the Rhode Island Experiment Station? Government-supported researchers willingly evaluated privately manufactured products, from fertilizer to tractors, publishing nitrogen, potash, and phosphorous analyses and horsepower ratings, so clearly the researchers might not have feared offending wheel hoe manufactures, especially those located out of state. The only plausible answer lies in the increasingly big-farm bias of research and the progressive farmers support of increased experiment station budgets.

Berry growers - large or small?:

Berry growers, however, used wheel hoes. Allen and Company and other manufactures understood berry growing to be labor-intensive, usually small-to-medium-scale, season-intensive enterprise ideally suited to wheel hoe use- exactly the viewpoint of the Rhode Island Experiment Station. Yet only rarely did experiment center experts address the needs of small-scale, possible part-time, berry growers. Liberty Hyde Bailey, perhaps the best known turn-of-the-century agricultural writers, argued from his Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station that berry growers should use hoes or horse-drawn cultivators. In Blackberries, an 1895 bulletin, he told commercial growers to space their rows eight feet apart, for this "allows of easy cultivation." But cultivated by what? "Two horses and a spring-tooth cultivator are the most efficient means which I have yet found of keeping a blackberry plantation in condition," Bailey concluded enthusiastically. The two-horse method is the whole focus of the bulletin, and Bailey directed the attention of his reader to "the picture in our plantation, on the title-page," and illustration making exceptionally clear that his intended audience consisted chiefly of large-scale farmers.

A national figure in the agricultural experimentation and education, Bailey now and then mentioned wheel hoes. His Principles of Vegetable Gardening, a very popular textbook first published in 1901 and frequently revised, lambasted the hoe as "a clumsy and inefficient tool" and praised the "important" wheel hoe. "It saves immensely of hand labor and usually leaves the soil in better condition than does hand-work." But immediately after this, his prose becomes vague. "There are a number of patterns, large and small. Choose a large wheel with a broad tire, that it may ride over lumps and travel on soft ground." About the benefits of the broad-tired, small-wheeled machine he said nothing. Indeed, his final sentence suggests a real confusion. "Soil must be in good condition to be worked with wheel hoes therefore, they should be introduced for their educational effect." Whatever the meaning of his last words of the subject - educate about tilth or wheel hoe efficiency or what? - his treatment of the machines in a college-level textbook aimed chiefly at aspiring farmers seems at first inexplicable. Why nearly ignore a machine so useful to small-scale growers?

An answer lies toward the end of Principles of Vegetable Gardening, in an outline listing tools for market gardeners. Bailey listed wheel hoes in two places, under "tool to prepare the land for planting" and "tools for subsequent use." But it is on a second list of equipment "for a market garden large enough to be worked by horses or mechanical power" that he lavished attention, suggesting that a would-be market gardener ought to have two horses at least. His book ignores wheel hoes because it ignores the small-acreage market gardener, an agriculturist even the USDA admitted made a comfortable family living from as little as three acres.

The Wheel hoe comes home:

By the close of the first decade of the new century, a handful of pleasure gardeners largely outside the circle of government-backed researchers had determined that vegetable gardens ought to be redesigned to make the most of wheel hoe efficiency and that the wheel hoe ought to be the center of a larger "system." Systematizing vegetable gardening in order to increase efficiency struck no one as new, but the notion of the wheel hoe - and to a lesser extent, the scuffle hoe - as the generators of a system did. While Allen and Company had long claimed that large-scale truck farmers frequently employed ten or more men on large fields, each pushing a wheel hoe, not until 1911 did one innovator study the efficiency of the wheel hoe in the small, family-sized garden, a space thirty by sixty feet, "slightly over one twenty-fifth of an acre." E.L.D Seymour argued in Economy and the Vegetable Garden precisely the opposite of Bailey's two-horse thesis and demonstrated his argument through the most precise bookkeeping imaginable, accounting for such minuscule sums as the cost of row labels.

Seymour claimed that his eighteen-hundred-square-foot garden ought to provide all the vegetables needed by a family of four and ought to consume very little time if engineered for the wheel hoe. Using the industrialist-engineer language of the times, he stressed the necessity of eliminating "waste" and emphasized that "economy is simply a synonym for the prevention of waste." Seymour loathed wasted space and wasted produce, but above all he loathed wasted time and energy. Only the wheel hoe, around which the pace of the garden is ordered, conserved time and energy. The "adoption of the system of planting in rows instead of in small, isolated beds" allowed the gardener "to weed and cultivate rapidly, down one row, up another, with no breaking of backs and wearing away of knees, merely by the propulsion of a wheel hoe or the rapid manipulation of a scuffle. These modern gardening tools - the second factor in economizing time and effort [after the arrangement of long rows] - and should have a prominent place in every garden." He told readers to lavish care on the tools, to keep them in perfect condition, to learn to use them well. "Maintain system in every phase of the work," he insisted.

His photographs and sketches make clear that his "combination wheel hoe and seeder" was indeed "indispensable in the vegetable garden" and "saves time and backache." Moreover, the illustrations depict what are almost certainly Allen and Company machines - small-diameter, one and two-wheel machines for working close to seedlings. Seymour admitted the necessity for some hand weeding, he suggested that the use of system and wheel hoes would nearly eliminate kneeling. And his precise calculations of cost - including the property tax on the garden area and the nine-dollar cost for the wheel hoe seeder - suggest that the no-horse gardener could profit from the systematized vegetable garden. Moreover, his article implies that an even larger area would hold out a promise of increasing family income - not just a saving on the food budget.

Agricultural authorities finally take note:

By the 1940s, Depression and war convinced even government-backed researchers that wheel hoes made sense in any small-farm financial equation, but by then the two-wheel, engine-driven garden tractor and its successor, the rototiller, had reduced many of the claims of wheel hoe supporters. Yet between 1910 and 1940, thousands of American families more than proved Seymour right, although their efforts at market gardening innovation passed essentially unnoticed by USDA and other "official agricultural science" authorities until the Division of Subsistence Homesteads of the Department of the Interior funded several studies in the mid-1930s. In study after study, state agriculture experiment stations examined the extent and implications of part-time farming, learning, as W.P. Walker and S.H. DeVault noted in Part-Time and Small-Scale Farming in Maryland, that "small farms are generally overlooked in most agricultural programs. We have neglected to consider small farms in our public policy. Irrespective of the trend toward large-scale, mechanized farming, small farms, like other small business enterprises, are here to stay in sufficient numbers to be a factor in our land policies."

Surprise spices all of the studies. Experiment station workers made discovery after discovery, and while rarely as outspoken as Walker and DeVault, often expressed their wonder that so much small-scale and part-time farming prospered beyond the notice of decades-old agricultural research activities. Iowa researchers found part-time farmers enjoying many more "urban" conveniences, especially radio sets and toilets, than their full time counter parts Maryland investigators marveled that: "the amount of food that can be secured from a small area of land is surprisingly great." Indiana researchers discovered that many part-time farmers bought a horse in spring, worked it until harvest then sold it, saving the cost of keeping it over the winter and that many, many others (72% of the survey sample) used no horse at all. The researchers had burst into an agricultural realm not only of one-horse farmers, but of half-horse farmers, no-horse farmers, and wheel hoe farmers, innovators beyond the notice of brand name agricultural science and technology.

A big Thank You to the Author: John R Stilgoe

I came across the book Scientific Authority & Twentieth Century America while researching wheel hoes. It is a collection of articles from a variety of writers. After a little detective work, we were able to reach Professor Stilgoe of Harvard University and he granted us permission to reproduce his article on our website.

4 things you need to know about the history of ploughing

Simple as it may seem, ploughing is intrinsic to all farming practices - churning up the soil and enabling human beings to cultivate plants in all kinds of previously inhospitable environments. Ploughs are the most basic yet most brilliant of agricultural instruments: the tools of the trade, symbols of our symbiosis with the land and the apparatus enabling humans to cultivate crops and create farming communities. Embroiled with that of humanity itself, the history of the plough is a surprisingly fascinating one.

1. When did ploughing begin?

Agriculture is the oldest industry in the world &ndash humans were ploughing fields and sowing seed before we could even write. Before that, we were nomads &ndash roaming vast areas in search of food, water and shelter. Farming rooted communities in one place, when some 10,000 years ago, hunter gatherers began to domesticate plants and animals. Instead of chasing boar or picking fruit from wild trees, they began to devote time to tilling the soil, planting grain and watering plants in a bid to cultivate more fruit and grain: each generation gaining more knowledge about how to care for the soil and grow healthy crops.

Before ploughs, early farmers would use branches or sticks to create furrows on the surface of the soil for seeds to be sown. In a bid to become more efficient, man eventually invented purpose-built hand-held hoes. There is evidence of these being used by the ancient Egyptians some 4,000 years ago. Eventually, after generations, man also domesticated wild animals &ndash and thus the animal-drawn plough was born &ndash so that the camels, oxen or even elephants could do the difficult work while men lazed around being fanned by palm leaves.

2. What exactly do ploughs do?

Ploughs help to prepare the soil for seeding or planting crops: creating open furrows by dragging through the soil. The faster the land can be tilled, the more food can be produced. In order to keep growing healthy crops in not-so fertile areas, the earth needs to be churned up so that nutrients come to the surface. Ploughs do exactly that: turning up the soil to bring fresh nutrients to the top and depositing plant residue below where it will break down. This process also aerates the earth &ndash enabling it to hold more moisture.

3. How has ploughing evolved?

Ploughing has come rather a long way since those early days of sticks and oxen &ndash now we have expensive machines to churn up the soil at a rate primordial farmers would never have thought possible &ndash but the concept remains much the same.

&bull The scratch plough

The plough has evolved since the early simple scratch plough. This device is still used in some parts of the world and does exactly what it says on the tin: its wooden frame is dragged through the topsoil, breaking it up to create a path to be planted.

&bull The turn plough

Less fertile soil must be churned to bring nutrients to the top &ndash which is where the nifty turn plough comes in cutting down into the earth and turning the soil as it's dragged along by an animal.

&bull The mouldboard plough

Then came heavier iron mouldboard ploughs: these more heavy-duty tools would include a wheel &ndash thus reducing the amount of time taken to plough a field and enabling workers to cultivate greater expanses.

With the Industrial Revolution came steam power &ndash enabling ploughs to be pulled by machines, rather than horses or cows. During this exciting time, tasks could be done on a scale previously unimaginable &ndash enabling farms to output incredibly high volumes of produce.

&bull The steel plough

In 1837 John Deere created the first steel plough &ndash this was even stronger than the iron plough and thus able to work soil previously unsuitable for agriculture.

How the heavy plough changed the world

The world changed when a plough that could plough deep and turn over heavy clay soil was invented in the Middle Ages.

Armed with massive amounts of data, researchers are now trying to document how a small technology leap turned the distribution of wealth on its head in medieval Northern Europe.

The invention of the heavy plough made it possible to harness areas with clay soil, and clay soil was more fertile than the lighter soil types. This led to prosperity and literally created a breeding ground for economic growth and cities &ndash especially in Northern Europe.

Good times with heavy soil in the North

Loose, more sandy and dry soil is more common in Southern Europe, where farmers were doing fine with the earliest functioning plough &ndash known as the ard, or the scratch plough.

The heavy plough turned European agriculture and economy on its head. Suddenly the fields with the heavy, fatty and moist clay soils became those that gave the greatest yields.

Thomas Barnebeck Andersen

This type of plough wasn&rsquot, however, very good for ploughing the heavier, more clayey soils up north. For this reason, it was mainly the south that experienced prosperity and growth with growing cities all the way up to the early Middle Ages.

&ldquoThe heavy plough turned European agriculture and economy on its head. Suddenly the fields with the heavy, fatty and moist clay soils became those that gave the greatest yields,&rdquo explains Professor Thomas Barnebeck Andersen of the University of Southern Denmark.

&ldquoThe economy in these places improved and this sparked the growth of big cities with more people and more trade. The heavy plough started an upward spiral in new areas.&rdquo

Together with Associate Professor Peter Sandholt Jensen and PhD student Christian Skovsgaard, Andersen is looking into how &ndash and if &ndash the heavy plough changed the world in the early Middle Ages from around year 900 to 1300.

New inventions turn cons into pros

The economy in these places improved and this sparked the growth of big cities with more people and more trade. The heavy plough started an upward spiral in new areas.

Thomas Barnebeck Andersen

At that time an agricultural revolution was taking place, which led to far higher yields and more efficient operation than before. Some historians believe the main reason for this revolution &ndash which took place while economic growth centres were moving from the south up to the north of Europe &ndash was the invention of the heavy plough.

&ldquoThe stirrup is another example of a small yet crucial invention from the Middle Ages. It enabled warriors to sit steadily on a horse and transfer the horse&rsquos strength to e.g. a lance. This marked a change in warfare practices,&rdquo says Andersen.

&ldquoThose who were first to start using this technology usually emerged as the victors. The heavy plough represented the same advantage for regions where the soil was difficult to cultivate.&rdquo

Historian Lynn White Jr. presented the theory about the heavy plough in a book back in 1962. But as early as around World War 2, he had already introduced this and other unconventional hypotheses. These were about how seemingly small, new technologies had a sudden and dramatic effect on the economic development, and therefore also determined where the power was centred and where cities grew.

Uncovering the agricultural revolution

Previous research

The historian who launched the heavy plough theory in the book &lsquoMedival Technology and Social Change' is Lynn White Jr. The book was published by Oxford University Library in 1962.

Researcher and author Jared Diamond (UCLA, California) published the book &rsquoGuns, Germs and Steel&rsquo in 1999.

Jared Diamond also wrote &rsquoThe Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal&rsquo. In this Pullitzer prize winning book, the author combines theses on economic growth with new technologies, geography, climate and more.

Historians normally find their sources and draw up hypotheses by digging deep into selected qualitative source material. In contrast to this, the Danish project involves the comparison of enormous amounts of data.

&ldquoThe theory about the heavy plough has never been tested the way we&rsquore doing now,&rdquo says the Andersen.

&ldquoBy quantitatively combining a great deal of facts and databases, we&rsquore now able to exclude with greater precision influences other than the heavy plough. At the same time we&rsquore also taking soil conditions, growth centres, geology, climate and a host of other relevant factors into consideration to support or reject our hypothesis.&rdquo

Simply stated, the Danish researchers&rsquo hypothesis is based on the so-called geography hypothesis, which states that a geographical condition (e.g. heavy clay soil) becomes an advantage when a new technology (e.g. the heavy plough) becomes available.

&rdquoWe&rsquore primarily focusing on a single crucial technological innovation that we can use as a starting point for explaining the extensive displacements of growth centres in Europe,&rdquo says the professor.

The heavy plough viewed from multiple angles

Once all the various factors have been analysed, they are then related to the introduction of the heavy plough in the various regions of Europe.

The three researchers set out to test the &lsquoheavy plough hypothesis&rsquo back in 2011. The preliminary results appear to support their theories about the enormous importance of the heavy plough.

And again it&rsquos all about new technology &ndash this time in the form of databases and advanced computer software, which makes it possible to compare the results.

&rdquoWe&rsquore talking huge quantities of data that we extract from widely different databases,&rdquo says Andersen.

Econometrics: the economic research approach

The researchers will rely extensively on Geographical Information System (GIS) software to generate a number of the measures needed. The GIS software allows us to generate a unique dataset with a number of variables otherwise impossible to obtain.

&rdquoThis type of research has only been possible in the past decade, with new and sophisticated software and an integration of lots of administrative and scientific data. For instance, we use the European Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS) in conjunction with GIS data from a geographical information system.&rdquo

Many factors must be considered to get to fully understand the importance that the heavy plough had as a new technology.

The first step basically consists of figuring out how the soil types are distributed in different regions &ndash of which Europe has 270, according to the GIS matrices.

Clay soil is the first indicator &ndash others follow

&rdquoClay soil is known as luvisol. This is what we&rsquore looking for and what tracking databases use,&rdquo says Andersen.

Once the luvisol-rich land has been detected, the next unknown parameters pop up:

  • Where exactly are the luvisol-poor soils? Developments in the early Middle Ages can then be compared with luvisol-rich regions.
  • Where were the financial centres located &ndash before and after the introduction of the heavy plough?
  • How and when did urban centres and populations start growing?
  • How might other factors &ndash including other new technologies, political and historical factors &ndash have affected the rise or fall of these centres?
  • What do written sources say?

This article is produced in collaboration with the Danish Council for Independent Research (DFF).

The revolutionary invention of the wheel

In today’s world, technology is developing at an unprecedented rate. The latest gadget today is tomorrow’s antique. As a result of this rapid development of technology, we often take things for granted. One of these is the wheel. Take a look around, and you will see wheels everywhere, be it as tyres, or in everyday machinery. The wheel has even been imbued with symbolic meanings, most famously, perhaps, as a metaphor for the never ending cycle of life.

One may be tempted to think that the wheel is just a humble or even primitive invention compared to some of the fancy gadgets that we have today. Nevertheless, the wheel (specifically as a means of transportation) was actually invented at a relatively late point of human history. The oldest known wheel found in an archaeological excavation is from Mesopotamia, and dates to around 3500 BC. This period was known as the Bronze Age, which is a relatively late chapter in the story of the development of human civilisation. By this time, human beings were already planting crops, herding domesticated animals, and had some form of social hierarchy.

One of the reasons why the wheel was invented only at this point in history is due to the fact that metal tools were needed to chisel fine-fitted holes and axles. This leads to the next reason – the wheel was not just a cylinder rolling on its edge. It was a cylinder that was connected to a stable, stationary platform. This wheel-axle concept was a stroke of genius, but making it was a challenge. The ends of the axle, as well as the holes in the centre of the wheels had to be nearly perfectly smooth and round. Failing to achieve this would result in too much friction between these components, and the wheel would not turn. Although the axle had to fit snugly in the holes of the wheels, they had to have enough room to allow them to rotate freely. Given the complexity of the wheel-axle combination, it may be unsurprising that the wheel was not initially invented for transportation purposes. Instead, it has been claimed that wheels were first used by potters. Remember the 5,500-year-old wheel for Mesopotamia? It seems that it was a potters’ wheel (the use of wheels for pottery making may date even further back into the Neolithic). It seems that the use of wheels for transportation only happened 300 years later.

The earliest wheels are believed to have been used for pottery making. Photo source .

Although the world’s oldest wheel has been found in Mesopotamia, the earliest images of wheeled carts were found in Poland and elsewhere in the Eurasian steppes. Some have suggested that due to the immense challenge that the invention of the wheel posed to mankind, it probably happened only once, and spread from its place of origin to other parts of the world. However, others believe it developed independently in separate parts of the world at around the same time. For example, The Ljubljana Marshes Wheel is a wooden wheel that was found in the capital of Slovenia in 2002 and was dated to 3150 BC. At present, the birthplace of the wheel is said to be either in Mesopotamia or the Eurasian steppes. Although Mesopotamia has the oldest known wheel, linguistic evidence is used to support the claim that the wheel originated in the Eurasian steppes.

Although the wheel has revolutionised the way early human beings travelled and transported goods from one place to another, the wheel was not a perfect invention. For instance, camels were a much more efficient form of transportation in the desert environment when compared to the wheel. It has also been claimed that between the 2 nd and 6 th centuries A.D., the camel supplanted the wheel as the primary mode of transport in the Middle East and North Africa. Nevertheless, the wheel was still used for domestic purposes, such as for irrigation, milling, and pottery making. This shows the various uses of the wheel, and its importance to mankind. I guess we ought to change our perspective about the wheel, and not view it as a basic invention by ‘primitive man’. Instead, we should view it as one of the great achievements of human society.

Featured image : A depiction of an onager-drawn cart on the Sumerian "battle standard of Ur" . Photo source: Wikipedia.

The Wheeled Plough - History


In June 1857, James Oliver received his first patent, Number 76,939. 1 It covered the essential features of the chilled iron plow and in February of the following year, he was granted another patent that covered the unique chilling process, which Mr. Oliver had developed. 2 By 1868 the small Oliver factory was incorporated and renamed as the South Bend Iron Works. The stockholders of this newly formed company included George Milburn (of the Milburn Wagon Company, Mishawaka, Indiana), his son-in-law Clement Studebaker (of the Studebaker Manufacturing Company), and a few other important businessmen of South Bend.

The South Bend Iron Works built a new foundry, warehouse, machine shop, and a wood shop. The factory, in addition to making plows, kept busy by making castings for Singer Sewing Machine Company, casting wagon skeins for Studebaker, and making numerous other castings on order. Oliver continued making wagon skeins for Studebaker until 1874, by which time the volume of plow orders had grown so much that Oliver then devoted full time to making the Oliver Chilled Plow.

In 1870 the Oliver trademark was adopted and would, from then on, appear on every Oliver Chilled Plow produced. The South Bend Register commented in 1871 that Oliver &ldquo&hellip[if he keeps on improving his plow] it will soon have no rivals in the country. The popularity of the Oliver Chilled Plow is almost unprecedented in the history of plows.&rdquo 3 In 1871 the factory sold 1,500 plows, three years later the company made and sold 17,000 plows and had outgrown their factory. In 1874 Mr. Oliver bought about 40 acres of property in the southwest portion of South Bend (the property started at the northwest corner of Sample and Chapin Streets). 4 Not only did the factory increase in size, the Oliver product line began to increase as well. Clement Studebaker thought Mr. Oliver was spending too much money and sold his shares back to the Oliver family. The Oliver family now owned 1,713 of the original 2,000 shares the company issued. The Oliver company had 200 employees.

By 1877 the company had established branch houses (dealerships of Oliver equipment) in Mansfield, Ohio Dallas, Texas Rochester, New York Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and San Francisco, California. In 1879 the company began to export the Oliver plow to Scotland. Also, the plant expanded and railroad tracks were extended into the plant. By 1881 James Oliver had purchased the remaining stock, which made the company a completely family owned business. The plant was producing 600 plows per day and employed 900 people.

However, in 1885 there were problems. Labor strikes, riots, and disputes plagued the factory. On January 12, 1885 a great strike and riot started when men forcibly entered the Oliver plant and forced the employees to stop working. The next day at 7:00 a.m. 200 men armed with clubs and iron bars assembled at the front gates and refused admittance to the factory. There is a story that a South Bend resident by the name of Captain Nicar, an old Civil War veteran, forced his way into the office after receiving several wounds on his head and arms. Captain Nicar was forced to draw his revolver and held the mob at bay. A policeman that was answering Mr. Nicar&rsquos call for help was severely beaten. 5 The mob then entered the factory and 100 men went through the building breaking windows and plow bases. Nicar called in the veteran guard, which arrived with about 50 men (with fixed bayonets). The crowd was dispersed with no further bloodshed. Twelve deputy sheriffs were called in to protect the factory throughout the night. All firearms were removed from the local gun shops in South Bend and locked up in the South Bend Court House. 6 Ten men were arrested on charges of riot, assault and battery.

The factory remained closed until March 3, 1885. James had seriously considered moving the plant and plow operations to another city, leaving South Bend altogether. On February 21, 1885 there was a mass meeting at the courthouse, called by the mayor, to try and persuade the Olivers to remain in South Bend. Resolutions were adopted and presented to the Olivers who relayed the pledges made would be considered. 7 On March 3, 1885, James wrote in his journal, &ldquohave determined to start the factory tomorrow.&rdquo 8 Several of the rioters that were arrested were fined $100 and given 30 to 60 days in jail.

In 1887 the Oliver company began exporting plows to South America, which resulted in thousands and thousands of Oliver plows sold that year. The plow market then expanded to include Africa, Australia, and France. The phrase &ldquoPlowmakers for the World&rdquo was adopted as a trademark of the Oliver plow.

In 1901 the South Bend Iron Works was incorporated and the name was changed to the Oliver Chilled Plow Works with all 5,000 company shares held by members of the Oliver family. 9 By 1905, James Oliver had been in the plow business for 50 years. This was also the most productive and successful year for the Oliver Chilled Plow Works.

The following year, at the age of 83, James was granted the last of his 45 patents. He had been successful in making the plow a useful and strong farming instrument. In a U.S. Senate report to Congress it was stated that if, for a single year, all the farmers in the United States would use the Oliver Chilled Plow instead of regular steel or iron plows, the savings in labor would have totaled the sum of $45,000,000 (and this was the early 1900s)! 10 In 1910 it required 135 man-hours to produce 100 bushels of corn. Through the innovations of James Oliver, that amount of time had decreased to 23 man-hours by 1960. 11

In 1908 James Oliver died at the age of 85. His son, Joseph Doty Oliver (J.D.), replaced him as President and J.D.&rsquos son, James II, became Director. The company was continuing to grow and by 1909 there were 2,600 employees working at the Oliver Chilled Plow Works in South Bend. More branch houses (dealerships) were established in St. Louis, Missouri Memphis, Tennessee Billings, Montana and the expansion of a new plant in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. From 1913 to 1914 sales began to drop and business was becoming slow. However, it was a temporary slow down, because business began to increase in the years leading up to 1918. Business had increased so much that the Oliver company built plant number two (a little south and west of plant #1) for the purpose of building tractor plows. Motorized, internal combustion engines were now becoming accessible to the general farmer.

The Oliver Chilled Plow Works had been the sole producer of tractor plows for Henry Ford&rsquos tractor (the Fordson). However, Henry Ford was beginning to show more interest in his automobile business than tractor production. J.D. realized that if Ford pulled out, they would lose a large portion of their business. The Oliver company started to experiment with the creation of a tractor of their own. The first tractor they produced was called the Oliver Chilled Plow Tractor. There were only about 20 manufactured and distributed throughout the United States, where it was well-received. 12

J.D. was now getting older, but he still had the incredible ability to peer into the future of agriculture and farming. He knew that the Oliver Chilled Plow Works needed to offer a full-range of farming equipment to remain a competitive company. In order for this to happen, it would require a huge expansion and a lot of money and capital. The only option available to the Oliver company was to merge with other companies to make a full-line company. The result was the merger of four companies. These four companies were:

Oliver Chilled Plow Works

J.D. was named as the Chairman of the Board and his son, James II, became Vice-President. The assets of the Oliver Chilled Plow Works exceeded the combined assets of the other companies and J.D. was quoted as saying, &ldquomy name goes on the company, or the deal&rsquos off.&rdquo Thus the Oliver Farm Equipment Company was the chosen name. 13 Even though J.D. died in 1933, his legacy continued. Soon the Oliver Farm Equipment Company began adding to their line of machinery by acquiring additional plants. There were four plants established and each produced their own products. These plants were located in: South Bend, Indiana Charles City, Iowa Battle Creek, Michigan and Springfield, Ohio. The following companies made up the Oliver Farm Equipment Company:

The American Seeding Machine Company was organized in 1903. The merger brought together many competing companies. The partners in the 1903 American Seeding Machine merger included the Hoosier Drill Company of Richmond, Indiana.

The Hoosier Drill Company was started by Joseph Ingels in 1857 and operated at Milton, Indiana. The company was acquired by American Seeding Machine Company in 1868 when the company was reorganized as the Hoosier Drill Company. They manufactured, at first, corn planting drills (hollow spikes that &lsquodrilled&rsquo into the ground and deposited a seed) and then broadcast seeders.

P.P. Mast and Company, of Springfield, Ohio was another member of the American Seeding merger. This company was formed in 1856 by John Thomas and P.P. Mast, under the name Thomas and Mast. They built grain drills and cider presses, but during the 1860s they expanded their manufacturing line by introducing cultivators and other implements. During 1871 Thomas and Mast dissolved their partnership, being then known as P.P. Mast and Company. This company built the Buckeye Drill. 14

Several other drill manufacturers made up the 1903 merger under American Seeding Machine Company. Superior Drill Company, Empire Drill Company, and Bickford & Huffman were also merged (with the previously mentioned companies) into the American Seeding Machine and lost their individual identities in the 1929 merger into the Oliver Farm Equipment Company.

Charles Walter Hart and Charles H. Parr met at the University of Wisconsin and became very close friends. Close to the end of their college career they decided to work cooperatively on a thesis that brought about the development of their first engine. Their thesis dealt with the limitations of early internal combustion engines and Hart-Parr developed an engine that eliminated those limitations (or most of them). They were so successful in their ideas that the Hart-Parr company was organized in Madison, Wisconsin on April 29, 1897. Until 1901 they operated their engine factory, perfected their valve-in-head engine design, as well as a cooling system employing oil as the cooling medium. 15

They continued building superior engines until they needed larger facilities and because they lacked the capital to build, Hart&rsquos father financed the factory if they moved to Charles City, Iowa. The Hart-Parr Company was organized on June 12, 1901 at Charles City. Ground was broken for a new factory July 5th of the same year. Their development of steam and gas powered tractors caused the company to grow very rapidly. By 1911 the Hart-Parr Company employed 1,100 people and tractor production was growing every year. By 1915 the company was capitalized at $2.5 million.

Charles Hart left the company in 1917 and pursued business ventures on his own. He left Charles City and only returned upon the event of his death in 1937. The 1929 merger of Hart-Parr into the Oliver Farm Equipment Company brought about the Oliver Hart-Parr &ldquoRow Crop&rdquo tractor, an entirely new model with a unit frame design and vertical engine.

John Nichols started out as a blacksmith in Battle Creek, Michigan in the mid-1800s. He took in David Shepard as a partner very early in the history of the company. Hardly anything is known about the early history of the company Nichols and Shepard probably relied on word-of-mouth as advertising for their products.

The Pitts brothers developed their first threshing machine in 1837. Their threshing machine used a type of wooden slatted apron to separate grain from the straw and chaff. This type of threshing machine was used for more than twenty years. However, Nichols and Shepard decided that this type of threshing machine was never going to be a success. So, they experimented with ways to separate grain from the plant it grew upon with varying degrees of success. About 1857 Nichols and Shepard developed their first vibrator thresher, which utilized an entirely different design. 16 The Nichols and Shepard thresher was a big hit with farmers and the company entered into the era of big business.

Around 1900 the company introduced their famous Red River Special line of threshers. Along with threshing machines, Nichols and Shepard designed and created a line of combines. After the merger of 1929, the Oliver company continued, for several years, to manufacture the Red River line of threshing machines and an entire line of combines and corn pickers first developed by Nichols and Shepard.

The Wheeled Plough - History


The Olivers purchased 32 acres of the &ldquoPerkins Farm,&rdquo on the southwest edge of South Bend, for $30,000 and construction of a new South Bend Iron Works plant on that site started almost immediately. Full production continued at the &ldquoLower Works,&rdquo as the old factory on the West Race (the area where Century Center now stands) was known, while warehouses were built, railroad tracks laid, and water and sewer lines extended to the new &ldquoUpper Works.&rdquo The new complex had five buildings with a total area of 200,000 sq. ft. Plans called for employment of 400 men who would cast 50 tons of metal into 300 plows daily. A new 600-horsepower Harris Steam Engine powered the machinery. On January 17, 1876, the engine was started and the new plant went into operation.

Plow sales in 1878 reached 62,779. A total of 30 to 40 railroad cars loaded with 5,000 to 7,000 plows left the new &ldquoUpper Works&rdquo at a time, for shipment from coast to coast. In November 1878, Brownfield, who had been president for almost nine years after the resignation of George Milburn, tendered his resignation, and in January 1879, James Oliver was elected president. Prior to that, James had held the title of superintendent.

Meanwhile, &ldquobranch houses&rdquo were being established across the land to handle distribution of the plows. The size of the Oliver company simply overwhelmed its opponents, including the South Bend Chilled Plow Company, which had been organized by Bissell and allegedly used Oliver patents in an attempt to capitalize on the reputation of the Oliver firm, still known as the South Bend Iron Works. The year 1880 was one of great expansion. A record was set in production and sales of plows, new buildings were erected, riding plows were being produced on a large scale, the manufacture of malleable castings was started, and more rail tracks were laid to the Oliver property.

On May 4, 1881, James purchased the Chess and Vincent properties in the 300 block of West Washington Street. The Chess mansion was an imposing structure. Though it was only 19 years old, James sold the interior woodwork and hired a New York architect who had designed Canada&rsquos parliament buildings to enlarge and re-design the house. To increase the grounds, James sold and moved the Vincent house next door and hired an army of workmen to lay stone. The new 60&prime x 102&prime house (not to be confused with Copshaholm, which was built in 1896 by J.D. Oliver, James&rsquo son) had three stories, a slate roof, 10 bedrooms with dressing rooms, bathrooms with closets attached, and a billiard room.

James and his family moved into the new home at 325 W. Washington Street on December 10, 1882, and on January 17, 1883, held a reception for 500 guests who danced in the third floor ballroom and dined on food prepared by a Chicago chef.

James had come a long way from the simple life of a shepherd in Scotland, but in spite of affluence, he remained a simple man with simple tastes, who preferred the heat of his foundry and the dirt of a farm to the elegant surroundings of his new home. This was to be his last residence. James&rsquo wife died in the home in 1902, and he died there on March 2, 1908. The house stood vacant until 1911, when South Bend School City (now South Bend Community School Corporation) purchased and razed it. South Bend Central High School was erected on the site.

At the time of his father&rsquos death, J.D. Oliver was 58 years of age and had begun working in the foundry full time at the age of 16. He had been a director of the factory since he was 20 years old, so the transition from father to son was easily accomplished. Joseph was a financial genius and it is doubtful James would have done so well without J.D.&rsquos financial guidance. While James was frugal, J.D. realized money often was earned by spending some of it. Because of J.D.&rsquos modesty, it was not generally known that James almost always left details of financial management to his son.

At a meeting after the death of his father, J.D. was elected President, Treasurer and General Manager James Oliver II (J.D.&rsquos son) was named Vice President and Joseph Ford (J.D.&rsquos brother-in-law) was named Secretary. These three were also the directors of the company started by James Oliver. Thus J.D. held almost the entire issue of Oliver company stock had been named executor of his father&rsquos will and he was responsible for the plant and more than 2,000 employees.

Annual production at the time was very high. In 1909, J.D. launched plant expansion to double the size of the plant&rsquos footprint and developed plans to expand sales into Russia and build a factory in Canada. The Oliver Opera House block was remodeled and the Oliver Hotel annex, now seven stories tall, was opened a few months later.

In 1911, plant operations started in the new plant the Olivers had built in Hamilton, Ontario. J.D. correctly perceived vast amounts of Canada&rsquos Northwest wilderness would be opened to agriculture, and the plant was part of a plan to get part of that business. On May 1, the first carload of plows was shipped from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and by summer&rsquos end, 30,000 plows had been shipped. Among buildings constructed in Hamilton that year were two large docks to provide for two lake carriers to be used for shipping Oliver products. J.D. had contracted with International Harvester Company to handle distribution and sales for the Oliver Canadian plant. This satisfactory arrangement for both companies continued until 1919 when the Olivers sold the Hamilton plant to International Harvester.

Farming in the United States was steadily becoming mechanized, and the Olivers greeted it fully. A new era had been opened in 1905 when a gasoline engine was mounted on a traction truck to pull several plows. Gasoline farm tractors and gang plows (a large plank that has several plow blades fastened to it) developed rapidly, and on September 30, 1911 a world&rsquos record was set when an Oliver 50-bottom (50 blades) gang plow, pulled by three LaPorte, Indiana-built Rumley Oil-Pull tractors, turned 50, 14-inch furrows at one time, a width of almost 60 feet! That same year three International Harvester tractors pulling a 55-bottom Oliver gang plow set another record by plowing an acre in less than four minutes, a far cry from the days when a farmer walked eight and one-fourth miles behind a team of horses and plow to turn an acre.

When World War I broke out in 1914, J.D. prepared for troubled times. &ldquoWe shall not attempt to profit by present conditions,&rdquo he wrote. After the U.S. entered the war in 1917, J.D. was called to Washington to confer with the nation&rsquos food administrator, Herbert Hoover. But the war not only had to be supplied with arms and food, it also had to be financed. J.E. and Frank Hering, an Oliver Vice-Director, crisscrossed Indiana setting up fund-raising and bond-selling committees in every community. J.D. organized 22,000 schoolteachers to sell thrift stamps for bond purchases through school children to their parents. He often brought down the house when he spoke of &ldquothe fires of hell licking their lips in joyful anticipation of the advent of Kaiser Wilhelm&rdquo (the German war leader). In addition, to ease the food shortage for employees in South Bend, J.D. established a community garden. Fifty acres near the plant were divided into 50 by 100 foot patches. The families of 301 workers participated in the project. J.D. awarded $50 in gold for the best crop return.

After World War I, demand for tractor-pulled farm implements increased rapidly. It was estimated that 250,000 tractors would be built in 1919. Oliver Chilled Plow Works expected to put 750,000 plows behind the 100,000 tractors International Harvester and Henry Ford and Son would build. To this end the Olivers launched an extensive expansion program, and in the next four years conducted the biggest building and real estate activity, exclusive of the Hamilton plant construction, in the company&rsquos history. More than $3 million went to acquire branch house properties, $160,000 for new buildings at the South Bend plant, and $1 million to erect 160 greatly needed workmen houses.

An innovation at the time was the company&rsquos voluntary introduction of a pension plan, providing for a pension and automatic retirement for an employee who had reached the age of 70 and had been with the company 20 years. No pension was to be more than $100 per month or less than $12.

In a realignment of company responsibility to ease some of his burdens after World War I, J.D. had relinquished some of his duties, including that of plant manager. An operating committee for general management was set to be directly responsible to J.D., who retained the presidency. This committee included James Oliver II, Vice-President Joseph D. Oliver Jr., Treasurer H. Gail Davis, Assistant Treasurer and C. Frederick Cunningham, Secretary, a post that had been left vacant by the death of J.D.&rsquos brother-in-law George Ford in 1917. Gertrude Oliver Cunningham and Susan Catherine Oliver, daughters of J.D., were elected to the board of directors.

When the 1920s arrived, business indicators looked good, but disaster was ahead. Farm prices began to drop. Farmers were unable to pay debts and stopped buying agricultural implements. The company held the largest stock of manufactured goods and the largest stock of raw materials in its history, all purchased at high wartime prices. Because of its strong financial condition, the Oliver Chilled Plow Works weathered the crisis. J.D., however, did not fare so well in spite of the appointment of the operating committee. In October 1923, he fell victim to a four-month illness, described as &ldquotired break-down,&rdquo from which he never fully recovered. He resigned many of the outside directorships he held and gave up the presidency of the Purdue University Board of Trustees, on which he had served for 18 years. He returned to his Oliver Chilled Plow Works office February 11, 1924, where he remained active until the business was sold.

In 1923, increased competition from other full-line farm implement companies forced the Oliver Chilled Plow Works to choose between an enormous expansion with a program to include more implements, such as, tractors or joining together with manufacturers of different types of farm tools and establishing its own full-line company.

This research sheds new light on the much-debated link between agricultural productivity and development. We do so by estimating the causal impact of a large shock to agricultural productivity—the introduction of the heavy plow in the Middle Ages—on long run development. We build on the work of Lynn White, Jr. (1962), who argued that it was impossible to take proper advantage of the fertile clay soils of Northern Europe prior to the invention and widespread adoption of the heavy plow. We implement the test in a difference-in-difference set-up by exploiting regional variation in the presence of fertile clay soils. Using a high quality dataset for Denmark, we find that historical counties with relatively more fertile clay soil experienced higher urbanization after the heavy plow had its breakthrough, which was around AD 1000. We obtain a similar result, when we extend the test to European regions. Our findings substantiate that agricultural productivity can be an important driver of long-run development.

We thank a co-editor (Nathan Nunn) and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. We also thank Philipp Ager, Joerg Baten, Jeanet Bentzen, Davide Cantoni, Carl-Johan Dalgaard, Jeremiah Dittmar, Price Fishback, Charles Grant, Casper Worm Hansen, Nikolai Kaarsen, Nils-Petter Lagerlöf, Per Grau-Møller, Kevin O'Rourke, Karl Gunnar Persson, Paul Sharp, and Jeffrey Williamson as well as seminar participants at the University of Copenhagen, UC Davis, University of Southern Denmark, the XVIth World Economic History Congress in Stellenbosch, South Africa, the 2013 Economic History Society Annual Conference in York, UK, the 2013 EEA-ESEM Congress in Gothenburg, Sweden, the 2013 Economic History Association conference in Washington DC, the 2014 Royal Economic Society Conference in Manchester, UK and the 2014 “Accounting for the Great Divergence” at University of Warwick in Venice, Italy for comments and suggestions. We thank Per Grau-Møller and Jørgen Rydén Rømer for sharing GIS data for Denmark with us. All errors are ours. The research in this paper was supported by a grant from the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation (12-125223).

Watch the video: ploughing the maize field. part 1 (August 2022).