The Rise of Riding Implements

Seats on horse-drawn implements helped boost farm productivity during and after the Civil War.

| August 2006

The millions of immigrants who came to America during the 19th century brought with them a variety of skills, experience and knowledge. There were carpenters, cabinet-makers, shopkeepers, coopers, gunsmiths, miners and factory workers. Thousands of the immigrants also had been farmers or field hands in their homelands. Shortly after arriving in America, those who could bought land to farm, some traveled farther west to establish homesteads, and others sought jobs on established farms. Immigrants from eastern Europe found the farming practices and implements used in America to be much the same as those in their native countries, and that horses and mules furnished the muscle to pull the implements the farmers trudged behind.

A changing landscape, here and abroad

In the 1860s, several events occurred simultaneously that changed farming in America. First, the United States was divided by a civil war. Farmers in the northern states were asked to increase crop and livestock production to feed a rapidly growing Union Army. Increased quantities of hay, oats and corn were also needed for the thousands of horses and mules acquired by the Union Army. Wool was purchased from farmers for uniforms, because cotton was not available in the quantity needed. And hides were bought to make leather for saddles and harnesses. As a result, northern farmers experienced a new and welcome prosperity.

At the same time, several months of poor growing weather in England, Ireland and France significantly reduced crop yields in those countries, creating a serious food shortage. Prior to the war, European companies bought grain and meat from America's southern states, but that source of supply was cut off by the Union Navy's blockade of southern ports. England and France turned to Canada and America's northern states to buy large quantities of flour for their bakeries and tons of meat for their butcher shops.

Within a few months, though, American farmers found they could sell more products than they physically could produce. A manpower shortage further compounded the situation. Thousands of farmers lost the help of their sons and hired hands to enlistments in military service and, later, to a federally mandated draft.

During the Civil War years, farmers didn't have the options for increasing crop production enjoyed by today's farmers. There were no chemical fertilizers to stimulate yields or spray materials to control insects. If manure was used for fertility, it had to be spread over the fields from a wagon with a pitchfork. And there were no hybrid seeds. Farming additional acres wasn't an option either, because of the manpower shortage.

Equipment manufacturers make their move

Farm equipment companies saw an opportunity in this situation. They could increase sales during this period of farm prosperity by manufacturing new horse-drawn implements that would make farmers more productive. The implement designers realized that a farmer seated on an implement could work more acres in a day than if the same farmer had to walk behind the implement from dawn to dusk.