First Things

Of mousetraps and duct tape


| March 2006



"Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." What captivates Americans if not the possibility of a better idea? And where is that passion for progress more evident than on the farm? In this issue of Farm Collector, Ralph Hughes traces the development of corn combining, a practice hailed as one of the most significant developments in agricultural technology of all time.

Farmers as a group tend to regard new ideas with some skepticism. And so, despite the fact the corn combines were demonstrated to reduce harvesting costs, reduce field losses, increase the number of acres harvested in a day, cut the need for storage space and eliminate the need for a commercial corn sheller, a fair amount of salesmanship was required to seal the deal in farm country.

But if anyone is entitled to feel skeptical about a new idea or new piece of technology, it's the farmer. No other category of small businessmen in the history of this country has encountered as many scams. For decades, con artists have preyed on farmers desperate for something to help lighten the load. In fact, it was inflated product claims that lead to the birth of the Nebraska Tractor Tests, ensuring that when farmers forked over their hard-earned cash for a tractor, the equipment at least performed to the level of advertised claims.

Advertising and promotion, of course, have played a major role in ag technology for well over 100 years. In this issue, Sam Moore writes of the new agricultural technology unveiled to breathless onlookers at the Paris Exhibition of 1900. While few American farmers attended that event, farmers all over Europe did, and that helped fledgling manufacturers in the U.S. become international powerhouses, growing both their fortunes and those of this country. Meanwhile, back in the U.S., farmers routinely flocked to major exhibitions in Chicago and New York, and lesser events closer to home. For many, seeing was believing.

And for those who couldn't afford the newest bells and whistles, there remained yet another cherished farm tradition: baling wire and duct tape. Resourcefulness is another hallmark of the American farmer. Tales of farm-based modifications, retrofits and salvage operations are legendary. But I've run out of space … those are stories for another issue!

Leslie McManus, Editor
lmcmanus@ogdenpubs.com