Peelers, Parers, Pitters and Other Labor-Saving Tools

Early labor-saving tools made of iron helped make kitchen chores not only easier, but quicker.

| July 2015

With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, by the 1850s iron became available in much greater quantities. By the 1860s, steel was also increasingly available and was used to manufacture objects previously made of wood. This was true for farm equipment, including discs, planters, binders and especially plows. It was also true for many smaller items: shovels, hayforks, wrenches and household items.

Because of the durability of iron and steel, many of those early objects have survived more than 100 years for us, the collectors of 2015, to find and collect. The pages of Farm Collector are routinely filled with articles on plows, binder, steam engines, tractors and other devices used to plant, cultivate and harvest crops used to feed man and beast. But that is only half the story of man’s needs and ingenuity in fulfilling such needs.

Inventing labor-saving tools

Once produced, most crops needed to be processed before they could be preserved and/or consumed. Before corn could be cooked or baked, it had to be shelled or ground. Wheat needed to be separated from the straw and chaff, ground and baked. After animals were butchered, the meat was smoked or dried before it was cooked. All of these functions required tools made of iron, which is now the old iron many of us collect.

A century ago, fruit and berries were already important crops in the U.S. In addition to their nutritional value, fruit and berries were a welcome sweet addition to an otherwise simple diet. Canning and drying were common preservation methods.

Apples, which could be grown almost everywhere, were the most popular of all the fruit crops nationwide. Cherries (especially sour red cherries), grapes (eaten fresh or dried, juiced and made in to jellies, juice and wine) and peaches (less common, owing to their climate sensitivity) were also commonly grown. After harvest, each fruit required extensive processing for storage and immediate use. Special tools made of iron were invented to make preparation easier and quicker – in some cases, much quicker.

Apple peelers and parers

Apple peelers were known of as early as the late 1700s. The first peeler patented in the U.S. was issued to Moses Coates, Downing’s Field, Pennsylvania, in 1803. Since then, more than 325 patents have been issued for apple peelers, possibly the most patents issued for any given item. Until 1852, these peelers were made mostly of wood. The typical peeler had a wooden base and frame, a metal fork to hold the apple and a separate knife blade held against the apple to peel it as the fork and apple were rotated.