Corn Sheller an Important Tool on the Farm

Corn shellers are at the heart of an Iowa man’s old iron collection.


| May 2017



Marseilles Diamond sheller

Fine originals like this Marseilles Diamond sheller are rare finds.

Photo by Renae B. Vander Schaaf

Jake Rens has a great interest in preserving the history of agriculture. Although his life’s work took him away from the farm where he was raised, he never really left the farm. He began collecting antique farm relics decades ago, always looking for the uncommon item.

“Corn shellers caught my attention,” he says. “They were an important tool on any farm, big or small. Before the corn sheller, farm families manually forced the dried corn off the cob to feed their chickens and other livestock. Shelled corn, the main ingredient in cornbread, was also consumed by farm families.”

Although the invention of the corn sheller saved a lot of hand labor on the farm, shelling corn remained a manual process. To use a hand-crank sheller, an ear of corn is fed into the device. The ear is caught by the mechanism’s teeth and the kernels are separated from the cob. The kernels fall into a basket below and the cobs to the floor, to be used as fodder or fuel for the kitchen’s cook stove.

As the farmer used corn, he was constantly analyzing the ear. If one looked exceptionally good, it was set aside for next year’s crop. Later, it too made its way through the sheller. Open-pollinated corn made it possible for the farmer to be his own seed supplier.

As the corn sheller evolved, a tipper was added to the unit. Kernels on the end of the ear are less desirable for planting purposes; the tipper was used to collect those, which were set those aside as feed for fowl or livestock.

An early entrant in the market

One of Jake’s oldest shellers is a Marseilles unit dating to the early 1900s. Marseilles Mfg. Co., originally based in Marseilles, Illinois, began producing corn shellers in the 1800s. Marseilles shellers were shipped throughout the U.S. and abroad.