THRESHING EQUIPMENT


| November/December 1999



New York's Crystal Palace

N. Currier's lithograph of New York's Crystal Palace, erected in 1853 for the Great Exhibition of Art and Industry.

4745 Glenway Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio 45238 rhode@nku.edu

For half a century, grand expositions and world's fairs in the United States prominently displayed agricultural machinery. This fact comes as no surprise, considering that the population was predominantly rural until about 1920. Not until the elections of 1932 were there more congressional members from cities than from farms.1 The agricultural emphasis found in American world's fair exhibits started with the first exposition in New York in 1853 and culminated in the great St. Louis Exposition of 1904. From 1853 until 1904, American world's fairs celebrated the newest farming implements, especially machines representing advancements in cultivation and in reaping and threshing grain.

In general, such expositions 'celebrated the past while introducing visions of the future. Both the past and the future were highly idealized, almost utopian.'2 London's Great Exposition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, often called the Crystal Palace Exhibition, claims the honor of launching the age of the exposition: 'It was the first major exposition to rise out of the Industrial Revolution . . . .'3 On July 14, 1853, the Great Exhibition of Art and Industry opened in New York City with the commemoration of another, larger Crystal Palace serving as the central exhibition hall. The next day, President Franklin Pierce inaugurated the event with a ceremony. Incidentally, on hand was the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis. The American Crystal Palace inspired everyone who visited it, including Walt Whitman, arguably the nineteenth century's most illustrious American poet, and Mark Twain, who later wrote brilliantly about the Gilded Age.

In 1853, Horace Greeley revised and edited the 386-page duodecimo book commemorating the fair. The contents page revealed the emphasis placed on agriculture: Reaping, Mowing, and Threshing Machines; Plows; Other Agricultural Implements; Preserved Food; Products of the Soil; Saddles, Harness, and Trunks; Flax, and its Manufactures; Wool, and Woollen Manufactures; Miscellaneous Farmers' Tools; and Cotton.4 Other items in the list of contents referred essentially to manufactured products. Entitling his book Art and Industry as Represented in the Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, Greeley used the word 'art' to include the products of industry not exclusively fine art. To a degree, nineteenth-century Americans regarded machines as examples of artwork, and manufacturers often decorated their machines with sculptural details.

On exhibit in New York were McCormick's reaper, which cost $115 by itself or $140 if fitted for mowing. Greeley reported that 1,200 reapers were sold annually from the works in Chicago. Beside McCormick's reaper was Ketcham's mowing machine, manufactured in Buffalo. Next in line were Manny's reaper and mower, designed by J. H. Manny of Freeport, Illinois. Burrall's convertible reapers were displayed beside Hussey's mowing and reaping machine, which 'should properly have been named first, as it is the original of all the Reaping Machines in America,' according to Greeley. 'At the South, Hussey's machines are more generally approved than McCormick's, notwithstanding the latter is a Virginia invention, and took the great medal at the London World's Fair.' Hussey's machines originated in Baltimore. The Fairbanks' reaper and mower came next, and a self-raking reaper, invented by Charles Denton of Peoria, Illinois, claimed the distinction of being only the second machine of its kind ever built. Seymour & Morgan of Brock-port, New York, showed a reaper and immediately received an injunction for infringing on McCormick's patent. A model of a California reaper was displayed, as well.5

An illustration from J. S. Ingram's The Centennial Exposition, Described and Illustrated, 1876. The engine is not identified.