American Threshing Machine Beats British, 1853

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The story of a competition between an American threshing machine and one from Britain, which took place in 1853, is recounted in an article in Harper's Monthly Magazine for December 1874.

Edward H. Knight, of Washington, D. C, author of the article, was one of two men who took the American machine to Britain for the test. The article is a general survey of the advances in invention and machinery in the U. S. in its first 100 years.

Knight says that the threshing machine was invented by Andre Meikle, a Scotsman, in 1786 which would have been during the time when the United States was beginning to pull itself together after the rigors of the Revolutionary War.

Earlier attempts had been made to invent a threshing machine, Knight records, and these dated back to 1732, but it was Miekle who came up with the idea of 'the drum with beaters acting upon the grain in the sheaf, which was fed between rollers.' The U.S. machine was better, he said, because it relied on spikes on the drum.

The Harper's article is important in the recounting of farm history, for it was written when threshing with use of steam was very new, and the machinery depicted in drawings with the article were in use at the time.

Reporting on the contest in England, Knight wrote that the trial proved conclusively that the American threshing machine was superior.

He noted:
'The American machine was driven by a portable engine of six horsepower, and averaged 64 bushels of wheat per hour; 448 bushels of barley were threshed in six hours, nearly trebling the work of English competing machines, and the grain in much cleaner condition.'

The contest was witnessed by Mowbray Morris, editor of the London Times. Morris wrote that the American machine was 'about twice as light in draught as the lightest of our machines of the same description; does as much if not more work than the best of them, and, with much less power, dresses the grain, which they do not, and can be profitably disposed of at less money than our implement makers charge.'

He added: 'The American farmer demands and gets a machine which does not ruin him to buy or his horse to pull about, which runs on coach and not wagon wheels, and which, without breaking the heart of the power that drives it, yields the largest and most satisfactory results. Nothing, therefore, can better illustrate the difference in mechanical genius in the two countries than this grain separator as compared with its British rivals.'

The article deals also with other applications of steam to meet man's needs, in navigation on the waters and transportation on land, and manufacturing.

The year this article was published, 1874, was just two years before the nation marked the anniversary of its first century. In 1874, much less was happening, with U. S. Grant in the White House.

James F. Glidden, an Illinois farmer, invented barbed wire in 1874. The Grange won fights for train freight rate regulation in some western states. A steel arch bridge, the first bridge over the Mississippi, was opened at St. Louis. R. M. Green introduced the ice cream soda at Philadelphia. A. T. Still was the first osteopathic physician. The WCTU was organized. Philadelphia opened the first zoo in the nation.