The Story of the Sageng Thresher

The Sageng Thresher eliminated many problems faced by conventional steam threshing rigs

| February 2000

Of all the machines invented after the turn of the century to ease the working life of the farmer, surely the Sageng self-propelled thresher was one of the most unique. It was conceived in an unlikely place – the island of Madagascar, alongside Africa; it was designed and manufactured by a most surprising person: a missionary, Halvor O. Sageng; it was one of the earliest made entirely of metal (the industry leader, Nichols & Shepard Company, would not come out with their all-steel Red River Special Thresher until nine years later, 1917); it was one of the earliest – if not the earliest – self-propelled threshers; and it could be operated by one man, at a time when it was still customary to need three to six men. 

Early Sageng advertising said, "This machine combines in one frame all the apparatus necessary for threshing of grain. The power for operating both threshing and traction mechanisms is furnished by a powerful four cylinder gasoline motor built into the front of the machine (under the driver's platform.) Only one man is required to operate the whole machine. This is the greatest labor, time and money saving invention of recent years and will wholly revolutionize the threshing industry." Sageng advertisements pointed out 15 points of superiority over conventional steam threshing rigs. Sageng claimed this all-steel machine was absolutely free from the danger of fire or explosion, much-feared hazards of the time.

C.H. Wendel writes in Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, "The Sageng was intended to eliminate the problems of the long drive belt, and was claimed to save time and money. It ... had a unique double straw rack. The sheaves of grain were pitched into the feeder at the rear of the machine, and the straw blower was also located at the rear. Threshed grain emerged from the front end."

Missionary Has Time To Plan

Sageng, born in Norway and raised on a farm 4-1/2 miles west of Dalton, Minn., conceived the idea of a self-propelled thresher while a missionary for the Lutheran Free Church. When he returned to the United States a few years later, he set to work on it. It was announced in Farm Implements magazine on Dec. 19, 1908: "The Sageng Threshing Machine Company recently filed articles of incorporation under the Minnesota law ... for the purpose of manufacturing and putting on the market a new type of threshing machine invented by Halvor O. Sageng, of Dalton, Minnesota. A machine has been constructed by the Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Company, from Mr. Sageng's patterns, and presents some novel features. The main distinctive point is that the engine and separator are combined in one machine. The motor is installed at the rear, and is cut off from the separator by a steel partition. The whole machine is encased in steel as a precaution against fire. Another radical difference is that the separator is equipped with two sets of shakers, so that the straw is passed over double the amount of shaker surface that it is in the ordinary separator, which should surely clean it thoroughly of loose grain."

Other companies had tried to invent self-propelled threshers, but for various reasons, all had met with failure. Sageng's concept, however, was sound, and promising.


Unfortunately, his prototype machines were so heavy – the 36x60 inch Sageng weighed 24,000 pounds, compared to only 10,000 pounds for the same-size Nichols & Shepard (without the engine) – that its cast-iron gears which propelled the thresher over the rough country roads couldn't take the pounding.