JOSEPH FAWKES: steam plow pioneer


| January/February 1977

  • Steam Plow
    Joseph Fawkes' steam plow of 1858. Main frame was of iron, 8 feet wide by 12 feet long, resting on the axle of a roller (driver), 6 feet in diameter and 6 feet wide. One cylinder, 9'' in diameter with 15'' stroke was provided on each side of the boiler an
    American Society of Agricultural Engineers

  • Steam Plow

Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania 17022

In the summer of 1853, on August 11, inventor, Joseph Fawkes, demonstrated his patented steam plow at Christiana, Pennsylvania, to about 1,000 interested spectators.

The Philadelphia press reported 'satisfactory results,' saying that the plowing was executed 'as well as that usually done by horse power.'

Joseph Fawkes was born in Christiana, Lancaster County on September 25, 1815, the youngest son of Joseph and Elizabeth Walker Fawkes. He showed an early bent for things mechanical and as a young man turned his talents to inventing. Among his early inventions was a rotary lime spreader.



Fawkes achieved many things during his lifetime but is historically important because of his role in the development of the steam plow. He may have been the builder of the first practical steam plowing machine in the nation.

There were some efforts along this line in the 1830's but the machines proved to be too cumbersome and impractical. In the 1850's farmers were really looking for some new type of motive power. The farms of the Midwest with their black prairie soil high in organic material were a special problem. Fawkes was one of many mechanics who saw the need and tried to fill it.



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