Check-Row Planter Ended Era of Hand-Sowing Crops

Implement that led the way to farm mechanization now collectible antique farm equipment

| March 1999

As recently as 150 years ago, crops were hand-sown.

It’s an image almost incomprehensible today: A farmer walking a plowed field, planting corn (or cotton, or potatoes, or other crops) by making seed holes with hoes, “dibble sticks,” or simple drop devices, then manually covering and tamping each hole.

By the early 1800s, though, mechanization became inevitable. Development of hand-pushed planters, then the horse-drawn drill-planter, and finally, the check-row planter, moved agriculture into a new era.

Check-row planter rise in popularity

The earliest mention of check-row planting found in patent reports occurred in the 1840s, say Jim Goedert and Larry Greer in their book, Planter Wire: A Patent History and Collector’s Catalog. The check-row planter got under way in earnest in 1857, when Martin Robbins, a Hamilton, Ohio, farmer, was granted the first known check-row planter patent.

By the turn of the century, the implement was widely used. A corn report in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 1903 Yearbook noted that “perhaps more corn is now planted by means of a check-rower than by any other device.”

Goedert and Greer report that the last patent evidence found of check-line use was issued in 1939 to C.K. Shedd, Ames, Iowa, for a 4-row planter. As late as 1952, the International Harvester Co. was still making the McCormick No. 240 2-row check-row planter.

Check-row planter collectibles

Early planters are difficult to find intact, except in some museums. But related items are available and avidly sought by collectors. Plus, lots of planter literature, drawings and photographs – collectibles in themselves – are also available. Paper items include patent descriptions and illustrations, advertising materials and educational articles and booklets.