Binder Twine an Early Necessity for Harvesting

Binder twine key component of early mechanized harvest operations.


| August 2013



Harvesting Leaves From Sisal Plants

Natives of Yucatan harvesting leaves from sisal plants. 

Photo Courtesy Sam Moore

The world's supply of bread literally "hangs by a thread" - a thread of binder twine. 

The quotation above appeared in a 1925 booklet about binder twine published by International Harvester Co. It illustrates how vital the product was to the grain farmers of the world. Twine was used to tie sacks, fashion makeshift belts and suspenders (as portrayed in the many “farmer as hayseed” jokes), and perform a hundred other tying and fastening jobs around the farm. It was also an actual necessity in feeding the hungry population of the planet.

About this time of year 80 or more years ago, grain binders were swarming the wheat fields of the Northern Hemisphere. As the machines moved through the fields, the tying mechanisms could be heard. If the crop was good, the mechanism clicked with monotonous regularity — and each click meant another couple of feet of binder twine was used.

Key component for binders

John F. Appleby patented his twine-tying mechanism for grain harvesters in 1879, and the new binder swiftly swept the grain-growing world. By the turn of the century, virtually all small grain was harvested with a twine tie machine and the price of twine became critical to farmers, who used a lot of it.

Many sources of raw material were tried in making twine — grass, hemp, flax, straw and even paper — but all were rejected as unsatisfactory, many because rodents and insects found the taste irresistible. Finally, both sisal and manila fibers proved satisfactory and these two products became staples of binder twine manufacture.

Building a better mousetrap

Of course the manufacture of twine became big business, and most companies that built binders also made twine for them. International Harvester had large twine mills in Chicago, St. Paul and New Orleans, as well as Hamilton, Ontario; Croix, France; Neuss, Germany; and Norrkoping, Sweden, supplying farmers of the world with this lowly but essential product. IH bragged in 1931 that there were 5,795 spinning mills in the seven factories: “Allowing for the difference in time (between Europe and North America) there is a certain period of the day when all these spinners are in operation simultaneously, making twine at the rate of 2 miles each second, 7,200 miles an hour, or a single strand of twine long enough to go around the equator, 25,000 miles, in less than four hours.”