State of the Art Burrall Corn Sheller
Burrall Corn Sheller Delivered Advanced Technology
Whether by accident or design, the Burrall name is misspelled on this rare Munnsville Plow Co. No. 10 sheller. The piece also shows a commonly used but invalid patent date of March 14, 1863.
In an era when satellites steer tractors, it’s hard to imagine the days when an improved corn sheller represented cutting-edge technology. But in the 1840s, a corn sheller manufactured by Thomas D. Burrall, Geneva, N.Y., did just that.
“In the 1840s, most shellers did not separate the cob from the corn,” explains collector Chuck Heckroth, Dryden, Mich. “Burrall was perhaps the first to invent a sheller that did.” In use, shellers of the 1840s simply deposited cobs and kernels in a pile on the ground. The working mechanisms of most were fully exposed and made no accommodation for a bucket to catch the corn.
Patented in 1845, the Burrall sheller was an important improvement in corn shellers. Decades later, it remained a hot commodity. “Even after 1900, it was still shown in the Farm Implement News Buyers Guide as being produced by a number of companies,” Chuck says. Replacement parts were offered by Messinger Mfg. Co., Tatamy, Pa., as recently as 1948.
Thomas D. Burrall Mfg. Co. was established in about 1812 in Geneva. Burrall designed and produced threshing machines, cultivators, corn shellers, plows, mowers, reapers and a drill that applied seed and manure in a single operation.
In 1855, with a workforce of 40, Burrall Mfg. produced 250 reapers and other implements with a total value of $30,000 (approximately $770,000 today).
Almost no formal documentation exists on Burrall shellers, so Chuck has had to draw his own conclusions through exhaustive research and conversations with collectors. “I’m sure that Burrall manufactured shellers, but by the 1880s, other companies — including Goulds Mfg. Co. and Rumsey & Co., both of nearby Seneca Falls, N.Y. — also manufactured Burrall shellers,” he says. “Whether they paid royalties or not, I don’t know. I do know that in one case, Burrall sued another manufacturer for patent infringement.” That case was ultimately dismissed.
Burrall later won patents for improvements to his 1845 design, including one awarded March 24, 1863. “I’ve had trouble interpreting all the patent language,” Chuck admits, “but it had something to do with the hopper recess, making it possible for irregular cobs to pass through the opening. And that’s what the lawsuit was about.”
Motivated by popcorn
Chuck’s hobby has its roots in a snack. “When I was growing up on the farm, my parents grew popcorn,” he explains, “and we always shelled it by hand. I remembered my dad saying that there were antiques that they used to shell corn in the old days.” At age 16, Chuck found his first sheller and put it to work. “I thought it was pretty neat,” he says. “It was sure quicker than shelling by hand.”
As a novice collector, it took a while for Chuck to narrow his interests. “I bought box-mounted shellers for a while,” he recalls, “but mainly I looked for 1- and 2-hole floor shellers. I ended up getting rid of the box shellers about 15 years ago.” At some point, he discovered Burrall shellers.