Farm Collector

American Threshing Machine Beats British, 1853

By Staff

The story of a competition between an American threshing machine
and one from Britain, which took place in 1853, is recounted in an
article in Harper’s Monthly Magazine for December 1874.

Edward H. Knight, of Washington, D. C, author of the article,
was one of two men who took the American machine to Britain for the
test. The article is a general survey of the advances in invention
and machinery in the U. S. in its first 100 years.

Knight says that the threshing machine was invented by Andre
Meikle, a Scotsman, in 1786 which would have been during the time
when the United States was beginning to pull itself together after
the rigors of the Revolutionary War.

Earlier attempts had been made to invent a threshing machine,
Knight records, and these dated back to 1732, but it was Miekle who
came up with the idea of ‘the drum with beaters acting upon the
grain in the sheaf, which was fed between rollers.’ The U.S.
machine was better, he said, because it relied on spikes on the

The Harper’s article is important in the recounting of farm
history, for it was written when threshing with use of steam was
very new, and the machinery depicted in drawings with the article
were in use at the time.

Reporting on the contest in England, Knight wrote that the trial
proved conclusively that the American threshing machine was

He noted:
‘The American machine was driven by a portable engine of six
horsepower, and averaged 64 bushels of wheat per hour; 448 bushels
of barley were threshed in six hours, nearly trebling the work of
English competing machines, and the grain in much cleaner

The contest was witnessed by Mowbray Morris, editor of the
London Times. Morris wrote that the American machine was ‘about
twice as light in draught as the lightest of our machines of the
same description; does as much if not more work than the best of
them, and, with much less power, dresses the grain, which they do
not, and can be profitably disposed of at less money than our
implement makers charge.’

He added: ‘The American farmer demands and gets a machine
which does not ruin him to buy or his horse to pull about, which
runs on coach and not wagon wheels, and which, without breaking the
heart of the power that drives it, yields the largest and most
satisfactory results. Nothing, therefore, can better illustrate the
difference in mechanical genius in the two countries than this
grain separator as compared with its British rivals.’

The article deals also with other applications of steam to meet
man’s needs, in navigation on the waters and transportation on
land, and manufacturing.

The year this article was published, 1874, was just two years
before the nation marked the anniversary of its first century. In
1874, much less was happening, with U. S. Grant in the White

James F. Glidden, an Illinois farmer, invented barbed wire in
1874. The Grange won fights for train freight rate regulation in
some western states. A steel arch bridge, the first bridge over the
Mississippi, was opened at St. Louis. R. M. Green introduced the
ice cream soda at Philadelphia. A. T. Still was the first
osteopathic physician. The WCTU was organized. Philadelphia opened
the first zoo in the nation.

  • Published on Mar 1, 1993
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