Happy 50th, Corn Combine

Corn combine reaches the half-century mark.

| January 2006

Most farmers are not averse to adopting new ideas or improved methods … even to experimenting on their own. But in rural America, there's a natural reluctance to change without a sound reason or tangible proof of success. Saving time, saving work or saving money are end results with which most farmers can readily identify. Fifty years ago, harvesting corn with a combine was both a new idea and an improved method for farmers to consider.

Prior to 1955, ear corn was king. For hundreds of years, it was picked by hand. Then, in the 1820s, the mechanical corn picker became the new and accepted method of harvesting corn. As a result, corn acreage in North America increased dramatically. From the back of wagons, ear corn was scooped into wood cribs for storage. However, if a farmer needed shelled corn for feed or to sell on the open market, a commercial sheller was hired at an additional cost of 3 to 5 cents per bushel. Commercial shelling also resulted in a large pile of cobs to be burned and husks blowing wherever the wind wanted to take them.

In 1950, a combine equipped with a grain head was used to harvest a field of corn in Australia. H.C. Quodling, director of agriculture in Queensland, wrote: 'This complete harvesting machine will not only reduce harvesting costs to a minimum, but will eventually prove to be one of the most notable inventions of all time.' How right he was! A new and improved method for harvesting corn was offered to farmers in 1955. That year, John Deere introduced the No. 10 corn attachment for the Model 45 self-propelled combine. For the first time, corn could be 'threshed' the same as wheat, oats or soybeans. There were additional advantages: a significant reduction in field losses, ability to harvest more acres in a day, less storage space needed and elimination of a commercial corn sheller.

The John Deere No. 10 corn attachment consisted of a 2-row snapping unit similar to that used on a corn picker. The corn attachment was readily interchanged with the regular small-grain platform. Therefore, it was possible to harvest soybeans on dry, sunny days, and corn in less favorable weather. Combining corn not only enabled farmers to pick, shell and clean their crop in a single pass over the field, but also to sell their shelled corn earlier, which (a half-century ago) usually resulted in a higher price. By 1957, the No. 10 corn attachment was adapted for use with the larger Models 55 and 95 combines. Then, in 1959, a 2-row corn attachment was introduced for use with the smaller Model 40 combine.

New ideas or improved methods have to be determined or 'sold' before they are widely accepted. John Deere developed a comprehensive publicity campaign to inform as many farmers as possible about the benefits of combining corn. To begin with, the John Deere Harvester Works arranged through dealers across the country to place a Model 45 combine, equipped with the new corn attachment, at farm shows in the fall of 1955. Such shows as Prairie Farmer's Farm Progress Show attracted thousands of farmers every year. During the field demonstrations, farmers walked alongside the combine as it harvested corn. They observed how the combine reduced field losses and left the cobs and husks on the field.

 Deere also produced a short motion picture film for the 1955-56 John Deere Day show held at dealerships during the winter months. Editorial articles and advertisements appeared in The Furrow, Deere's farm magazine circulated to more than one million North American farmers. And, of course, news releases with photos of the corn combine in action were distributed to state, regional and national farm magazines and rural newspapers.