Lawn Care in the Early 20th Century

Lawn care in the early 20th century was accomplished with reel mowers, trencher/edgers and more.

| August 2013

  • Clipper Mower Ad
    A 1906 magazine ad for the Clipper mower.
    Illustration Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Wanamaker With Hedge Trimmer
    One-man Dahl Mfg. Co. crank hedge trimmers in use.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Champion Pruner
    Champion pruner, patented in 1877, in use.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Philadelphia Lawn Trimmer
    This Philadelphia lawn trimmer was produced in the 1920s. It was originally painted celery green with gold trim.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Orange Trimmer
    A Keen Kutter reel-type edger.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Clipper Mower
    This Clipper mower, originally painted a deep maroon shade, was likely manufactured in Dixon, Ill.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Sickle Bar Mower
    A sickle bar-type edge mower.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Ottcraft Products
    Produced by Ottcraft Products Inc., Norfolk, Va., in the late 1950s, this unusual edger’s blade rotates across the line of travel.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Four Blade Reel Head
    A four-blade, wheel-driven reel head. Note the wooden roller.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Monta Mower Ad
    A 1923 ad for the MontaMower. Note the wooden handle. Montague continued use of wooden handles until the early 1940s.
    Illustration Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Edger Trencher
    A combination edger/trenching edger with a straight 48-inch handle.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Armstrong Power Trencher Edger
    An Armstrong power trencher/edger with a 36-inch D-handle.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Cyclone Hedge Trimmer
    Cyclone hedge trimmers in use.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Monta Mower
    A Monta mower with a rod handle.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Hand Grass Sickles
    Hand grass sickles made by Modern Specialty Corp. (bottom) and Ezykut Tool Corp.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Hand Pruner
    The Sparrow hand pruner was manufactured in England and sold in the northeastern U.S.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Weed Digger
    A wood-handled weed digger.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Grass Shears
    Adjustable scissor-style grass shears (top) and Seymour Smith and Sons shears with 5-1/2-inch blades.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • Shears
    Hand-forged shears with offset handles and 9-inch blades.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker
  • JG Rieff Weed Digger
    The working end of the J.G. Rieff weed digger. Overall length is 48 inches.
    Photo Courtesy George Wanamaker

  • Clipper Mower Ad
  • Wanamaker With Hedge Trimmer
  • Champion Pruner
  • Philadelphia Lawn Trimmer
  • Orange Trimmer
  • Clipper Mower
  • Sickle Bar Mower
  • Ottcraft Products
  • Four Blade Reel Head
  • Monta Mower Ad
  • Edger Trencher
  • Armstrong Power Trencher Edger
  • Cyclone Hedge Trimmer
  • Monta Mower
  • Hand Grass Sickles
  • Hand Pruner
  • Weed Digger
  • Grass Shears
  • Shears
  • JG Rieff Weed Digger

When it comes to lawn work, today’s homeowner barely breaks a sweat. Lawn work has become a highly mechanized activity, complete with self-propelled power lawn mowers, lawn tractors and an endless array of electric, gas-powered and battery-powered hedge trimmers and weed whips.

Things were different 100 years ago. In that era, good old-fashioned elbow grease and manpower kept lawns and gardens looking orderly. Homeowners, gardeners and grounds men relied on simple but cleverly designed equipment — and provided the muscle to make it go.

Mowing the lawn

If you think there’s a unique urgency to keeping the lawn mowed during the summer growing season, imagine the pressure of doing so in an era before mechanized mowers existed. A century ago, only rarely could a homeowner allow 10 days to pass between mowings. If more time than that elapsed and the grass was allowed to grow tall, most mowers of the day would not cut the resulting stand. Tall grass would clog the mower’s blades and, under extreme circumstances, cause the turf to be ripped out. The rotary power mower of today was as yet unknown. The reel mower was the dominant mower of the day.

The reel mower was invented in England in 1827. Blade widths were offered in ranges of 10 to 16 inches. The mower’s blades, which were driven by the wheels, were numbered. Those numbered from three to seven were curved and attached to the reel in such a manner that only a small segment of the blade was actually cutting at any given moment. That design made the mower easier to push. In use, the operator pushed a wooden T-handle that extended up from the reel at a 45-degree angle.



Basket-type grass catchers made of canvas were available as optional equipment on early reel mowers. Engines were first attached to reel mowers in about 1902.

Sickle bar mowers were also used for lawn care. The Clipper, invented in 1895 and patented in 1898, is a classic example. It was manufactured by Clipper Mower Co., Norristown, Pa., until 1904, when the company’s manufacturing operation was moved to Dixon, Ill. Clipper introduced a reel mower in 1914; the company went out of business in the 1940s. The Clipper was offered in 12-, 15-, 18- and 21-inch lengths; all were hand-pushed. A 24-inch model was pulled by a pony.