The Twine Binder

An inventor for life, John Appleby made life easier with his twine binder in 1867

John Francis Appleby

John Francis Appleby, inventor of the twine knotter on the grain binder. Courtesy of Ralph Hussong, Camp Point, Illinois 62320

Ralph Hussong

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JOHN APPLEBY (May 23, 1840 – Nov. 8, 1917), inventor, was born at Westmoreland, Oneida County, N.Y., the son of James and Jane Appleby who had but recently come to New York from England. In 1845 the parents continued their migration to try to get a fresh start in the newer country of Wisconsin, where they established their farm home in Walworth County. Here Appleby grew up, obtaining a district school education in the frequent intervals when he was not needed for work at home or on some neighbors farm.

It was when only eighteen, in the employ of a farmer in Iowa County, that he first conceived the idea of a binder. He was assisting in the trial of a new reaping machine, binding the sheaves as the grain was cut, when it occurred to him that a machine could be made to do this work. His suggestion was received with jeers from his employer. Nevertheless, during the ensuing year he constructed a model of a twine binder which contained the essential elements of the Appleby knotter which binds nine-tenth of the grain grown in the world today.

Lack of funds prevented Appleby from further developing his knotter and when the Civil War started he volunteered and served in the 23rd Wisconsin Infantry. While in the trenches before Vicksburg, he had time to whittle out a new device for rifles. This mechanism provided a magazine for cartridges and an automatic feed device. He received a patent for this the next year (1864) which he sold for $500, only to see it resold for $7,000. This incident, besides supplying funds necessary to continue experimentation, impressed Appleby with the value of invention and made him an inventor for life.

In 1867, he was able to demonstrate his first complete machine at Mazomanie, Wis. The demonstration was unsuccessful and earned him the reputation of being a crank. He was encouraged by one spectator, Dr. E. D. Bishop, who invested $1,500 in the binder. In 1872 Appleby connected himself with Parker & Stone of Beloit, Wis. and build in their factory a wire binding machine which was successful as a binder, but failed because of the farmers' prejudice against wire as a binding material.

In 1874 he organized the Appleby Reaper Works to build self rake reapers at Mazomanie. The following winter he renewed his experiments with the twine binder at the factory of Parker & Stone, and the next year rebuilt the machine which was then entirely satisfactory. On July 8, 1878 and Feb. 18, 1879, patents were issued covering the perfected machine and binder.

In the winter of 1878, William Deering, of the firm of Gammon & Deering, recognized the possibilities of the binder and purchased the rights to substitute it for a wire binder which the company had been using on the March Harvester. This was the first manufacture of the Appleby Knotter on a large scale, and marked the beginning of its general adoption on harvesters. The McCormick, Champion, and Osborn companies procured rights and began the manufacture of this type of binder and all others were soon outdistanced by its superiority. It remains today the most popular binding machine.

Appleby was married at Mazomanie, Wis. in 1867 and was the father of three children.

OLD TIME READERS OF THE IRON-MEN ALBUM MAGAZINE - Pictures above are ten of the most prominent agricultural inventors of the grain harvesting phase of farming.

It is a recognized fact that Cyrus Hall McCormick invented the reaper and in close conjunction Obed Hussey conceived the cutter bar with its divider snake heads enclosing the pitman driven sickle to cut the grain with the aid of the reel to throw the grain on the platform in an orderly manner - where it was caught up by the invention of the canvas elevator by the Marsh Bros, of Piano, Illinois to a platform about waist high, besides which two men stood ready to grasp and bind bundles of proper size.

My father was a horsepower thresherman, whereby I picked up various excerpts of the harvesting and threshing phase of agriculture including such great men as Walter A. Wood, M. Manny, D. M. Os-borne, Lewis Miller and last but not least, John F. Appleby. As a student of the mechanics of agriculture, I class John Appleby as one of the greatest inventors of the 19th Century as he invented the knotter on the grain binder. IMA

Courtesy of Ralph Hussong, Camp Point, Illinois 62320