Second Wind for Cotton Harvester

Southland Flywheelers revive an International Harvester 114A cotton harvester.


| February 2017



men of cotton

The 114A arrives at Flywheeler Farm. The transport crew with the picker safely unloaded (left to right): Bill Friday, Robert Bodine, Randy Bodine (in the operator seat), Larry Lemmond and Rickey Watson.

Photo by Bill Friday

As the cotton gin was to removing seeds from the locks of cotton around 1800, so was the mechanical picker to the gathering of the valuable bolls from the stalks. Each made a giant step toward making cotton the king of fibers. In 1850, Samuel S. Rembert and Jedediah Prescott of Memphis, Tennessee, received the first patent for a cotton harvester (no. 7631A) granted by the U.S. Patent Office:

“To all whom it may concern: Be it known that we, Sam. S. Rembert and Jedediah Prescott, of Memphis, in the county of Shelby and State of Tennessee, have invented a new and improved machine for picking or gathering cotton from the bolls upon the stalks of the plant while they are standing in the field; and we do hereby declare that the following is a full and exact description thereof, reference being had to the accompanying drawings, making a part of this specification.”

Trial and error of evolving technology

The late 19th century was an age of inventions, and many entrepreneurs sought to perfect a mechanical cotton harvester. Their lack of success reinforced the belief that cotton would always be picked by hand. For almost 100 years, it seemed, a successful cotton picker had been just around the corner. Inventors experimented with a variety of devices that were designed to pick cotton.

Pneumatic harvesters removed cotton fiber from the bolls with suction or a blast of air. Electrical cotton harvesters used a statically charged belt or finger to attract the lint and remove it from the boll.

The thresher-type harvester cut down the plant near the surface of the ground and took the entire plant into the machine, where the cotton fiber was separated from the vegetable material.

The stripper-type harvester combed the plant with teeth or drew it between stationary slots or teeth, while the picker- or spindle-type machine was designed to pick the open cotton from the bolls using spindles, fingers, or prongs, without injuring the plant’s foliage and unopened bolls.