Edward] 1794-1883 [Stabler.

A brief narrative of the invention of reaping machines; online

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Chicago, Illinois, 1897

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CHIS book is a republication of three pamphlets, printed as
their respective title pages show. While the name of the
writer is not given therein, it is known that they were from the
pen of Edward Stabler, of Sandy Springs, Md., Postmaster of
that place from Jackson's time until his death, a few years
since. They were given by Mr. Stabler to one of his particular
friends, Mr. R. D. 0. Smith, then and now a prominent patent
lawyer. Mr. Stabler, he informs us, was a man of great skill
as a mechanic, and was particularly noted for his ability as a
die sinker— long considered to be the best in the United States.
He made many government seals. The seal of the Smithsonian
Institution is exceptionally fine. He was also a famous rifle
shot, but wasted no powder on small game; buffalo and bear
hunting being his recreation until the time of his death, which
occurred about ten years ago. That he was a man of ability
is shown by the review which follows.

This republication is undertaken in order to preserve the
historical facts contained (with which we have long been
familiar ) as the single copy of each, now before us, is thought

to be the only one in existence.

J. Russell Parsons.

Lewis Miller.

John F. Steward.

Chicago, Illinois, February, 1897.





Reaping Machines;








Operation and Success of Reaping Machines

IN THE YEARS 1851, 1852 and 1853.



No. 128 Baltimore Street.


Reprinted by the. W. B. CONKEY COMPANY


NOV. 25, 1939






The object aimed at in this examination, is to ascertain as far as relia-
ble evidence within reach will establish the fact — and before the evidence
maybe lost — to whom belongs the credit of first rendering the Reap-
ing and Mowing Machine a practical and available implement to the
Ameiican farmer; not who theoretically i)iveiited a machine for the pur-
pose, that may have worked an hour only, and very imperfectly for
that short period, and was then laid aside; but who rendered it an
operating and efficient machine that was proved by successive years
in the harvest field, capable of doing its work, and doing it well; better
than either the scythe or cradle.

The object is not to detract from the merits fairly claimed by any
inventor; but it is to examine into some of the rival claims, furnish
the evidence that has satisfied our own minds, and leave it for others
to judge for themselves. We would not intentionally deprive an
inventor of his often dearly bought and hard-earned fame — the crea-
tion of his own genius — for it is more prized than even fine gold by
many. But it is equally just that merit should be acknowledged, and
the meed of praise awarded, where it is honestly and fairly due; and
to this end, we propose aiid intend to examine into the evidence
closely and critically. It may also be right to remark that we have
no private or pecuniary interest whatever, in these, or any other patent

As to the theoretical portion of the business, the enquiry might be
greatly extended; indeed for past centuries, as we have imperfect
accounts of Reaping Machines being used by the Romans. If the
ancients were successful in making a practical implement for Reaping,
by horse, or ox power, as some ancient writers assert, we certainly
have no correct and reliable account of a machine that would be con-
sidered efficient or useful at the present day; a machine to save or tear
off the heads only — as described by Pliny and Palladius — would more
properly be termed a gathering machine, and not at all suited to the
wants and habits of modern farmers.

It was not until near the close of the past, and within the present
century, so far as we can learn, that the subject again claimed much
attention of the inventive talent of either this, or foreign countries.



Of some half a dozen or more attempts made in Great Britain, and
recorded in Loudon's Encyclopedia of Agriculture, the Edinburg
Encyclopedia, and other similar works, all, or nearly all, relied either
upon scythes or cutters, with a rotary motion, or vibrating shears.
And although there was "go ahead " about them in one sense of the
term, as it was intended for the " cart to go before the horse," none of
them appeared to have gained, or certainly not long retained, the con-
fidence of the farmers; for at the exhibition of the "World's Fair in
London," the whole Kingdom could not raise a Reaping Machine; — a
practical implement which was considered worth using and exhibiting.

That the idea was obsolete there, and had been unsuccessful, is
clearly proved by the fact that the English journals and writers of that
period, without a single exception, spoke of the American Reapers —
after the trials! — as "completely successful"— "taking every one by
surprise " — " their reaping machines have astonished our agriculturists"
— " few subjects have created a greater sensation in the agricultural
world than the recent introduction into the country of the reaping
machines" — the " curiosity of the crowd was irrepressible to witness
such a novelty, even to stopping the machine, and trampling the grain
under foot," &c., &c. — Much more and similar evidence is at hand; but
better need not be produced to prove the entire failure of reaping
machines in Great Britain, as late as 1851. We would also refer the
curious to Rees' Cyclopedia, for a very brief account of what had been
effected; — a few paragraphs only are written on reaping machines, but
several pages are compiled as to the use of the scythe, sickle or reap
hook, and reaping y^^r/'. The Doctor refers to Plunknett's Machine by
name, as being "somewhat on a new principle, the horse drawing the
machine instead of pushing it forward as was the old mode of applying
the power." The machine is fully represented in the Farmers' Dic-
tionary; and he winds up the account as follows: "But the success
with which they have been attended, has hitherto been far from com-
plete;" again, " Other machines of this kind have still more lately been
invented by other persons [meaning of course his own countrymen]
but without answering the purpose in that full and complete manner
which is necessary in this sort of work."

The Doctor undertakes to tell us xvhat is wa?}icd, but fails entirely
to inform his readers hozv to do it. That John Bull had not done it is
clearly established ; but Brother Jonathan, the " Live Yankee," as John
calls his cousin, has solved the problem; and the solution is so simple,
when you know how to do it! that it is marvelously strange no one for
centuries had before struck upon the right key.

Philip Pusey, Esq., M. P. and F. R. S. — the chief manager of the
London Exhibition — admits the failure, though apparently reluctantly;
but the source of his information, in writing about the American
machines was interested and defective; and when he again writes on
this subject he will be better informed. He says: " At the opening of
this century it was thought that a successful reaping machine had been
invented, and a reward had been voted by Parliament to its author.
The machine was employed here and abroad, but from its intricacy,


fell into disuse. Another has been lately devised in one of our Colo-
nies, which cuts off the heads of the corn, but leaves the straw stand-
ing, a fatal defect in an old settled country, where the growth of corn
is forced by the application of dung. Our farmers may well, therefore,
have been astonished by an American implement which not only reaped
the wheat, but performed the work with the neatness and certainty of an
old and perfect machine. Its novelty of action reminded one of see-
ing the first engine run on the Liverpool and Manchester railway in
1830. Its perfection depended on its being new only in England; but
in America the result of repeated disappointments and untired perse-
verance, &c."

We propose to prove, and by better evidence, and disinterested too,
than he then had, that in 1833, near the date of " the first engine run on
the Liverpool and Manchester railway in 1830," the American machine
cut the "corn" just as perfectly, with equal " neatness and certainty"
as did the " Novelty" or " Rocket " pass over the Liverpool and Man-
chester railway. We shall again recur to English authority. John Bull
is a right lionest and clever old gentleman in the main; but he is rather
prone to claim what he has no title for — inventions, as well as territory.
We are willing to give him what he can show a clear deed for, but no
more. He beat us by one year only in the Locomotive; but we fairly
beat him eighteen or twenty in the Reaping Machine; and yet some
of his writers contend to this day that we '^pirated'' from Bell and
other English inventors all we know!

The excitement and sensation thus produced by the American
Reapers, caused renewed efforts on the part of English inventors;
some who had near a quarter of a century previously, been endeavor-
ing to effect this " great desideratum," to use an English editorial; and
the most conspicuous of these was one invented by the Rev. Patrick
Bell, of Scotland. Of the half a score or more and previous inventors
in Great Britain — Boyce, Plunknett, Gladstone of Castle Douglass,
Salmon of Waburn, Smith of Deanston in Perthshire, &c., &c. — none
were waked up from their Rip Van Winkle slumbers; or if they were,
the world is not advised of it. They all used revolving scythes, revolv-
ing cutters, or shears instead. Several trials were made with Bell's in
1828 or i82g; and a very full and minute description with plates, was
published some 24 or 25 years ago, and may be found in Loudon's
Encyclopedia of Agriculture.

It was, however, too complicated, too cumbersome and expensive,
performed too little service, and required too much tinkering and
repairs to be viewed as a practical and available implement. — The
English farmer found the sickle or reap hook preferable, for it was
every where resorted to. — The cutting apparatus of Bell's consisted of
shears, one half stationary, the other vibrating, and turning on the
bolt that confined them to the iron bar which extends across the front
of the frame. The vibrating motion was given by connecting the back
end of one shear to a bar — making the bolt the fulcrum — and which
was attached to a crank, revolving by gear to the driving wheels.

A reel was used to gather the grain to the shears, and adjustable,


back and forth, and higher or lower, to suit the height of the grain. A
revolving apron delivered the grain in a continuous swath; and the
team was attached to the rear of the machine, pushing it through the

We have been more minute in the description of Bell's machine,
because it may have been the foundation of some of the early, and
nearly simultaneous attempts made in this country. In fact it does
not admit of doubt that several were nearly identical with Bell's in the
use of the shears and reel, though with much more simple gearing, and
in the general arrangement. Whether they were original inventions,
cannot be ascertained. In this country, from i8oo to 1833 out of
some 1 5 or 20 patents granted for " cutting grain " and " cutting grass,"
only four appear to have been " restored "; i. e. technically speaking,
"not restored" in models and drawings after the burning of the Pat-
ent Ofifice in 1836. Many, if not most of them, were probably improve-
ments in the grain cradle, and mowing scythe: though the names are
preserved, there is no record to show for what particulars the patents
were granted. There can be no doubt however, that the inventors
considered them valueless, as they were " not restored," though Con-
gress voted large sums to replace the burnt models and drawings,
without any expense to the parties. Of those restored James Ten
Eyck's patent is dated 1825. Wm. Manning's in 1831, Wm. & Thos.
Schnebly's in 1833, and Obed Hussey's also in 1833.

James Ten Kyck used an open reel; not only to gather the grain,
but his cutters or shears, were attached to, and revolved with the reel; —
very much, if not exactly on the principle of shearing cloth.

Wm; Manning used another form of cutters, and quite different
from James Ten Eyck's — he likewise used fingers or teeth to support
the grain during the action of the horizontal cutters.

W' m. & Thos. Schnebly of Maryland, also used the reel, with shears
as cutters, very similar to Bell's.

Abr'm Randall or Rundell, of N. Y. (for the name is spelled both
ways), was another of the early inventors. His patent of 1835 is not
restored, though it is stated his machine was experimented with as
early as 1833 or 1834. He also used the reel, and his cutters, it is said,
were similar to Bell's — using shears.

T. D. Burrall, of N. Y. was also one of the early inventors, about'
1832 or 1833, but we believe professedly after Bell's, so far as to use a
reel and shears.

None of these machines however, Hussey's excepted, were success-
ful, or were used any length of time; nor is it necessary here to refer
particularly to other attempts, about this time, or indeed, prior to this
period, for they were equally unsuccessful; and their inventors cannot
claim the merit of doing a thing, that was not in fact performed — mak-
ing an efficient and successful Reaper. We may here remark, however,
that so far as now known, no machine like Bell's, on the shear or scis-
sor principle, has succeeded in this country; or as we believe, is ever
likely to succeed. We have seen a number by different inventors, and
all have failed to give satisfaction. They may work well for a very


brief period and with keen edges; but as they become dull, the shears
are forced apart by the straw and grass — particular the latter, and the
machine fails, as it inevitably must do, in its allotted duty: and for very
obvious reasons. If the shear rivet or bolt is kept tight, there is too
much friction ; if loose enough to play freely, it is too loose to cut well ;
and lastly, it is too liable to wear at the most important pointof the whole
machine. During the harvest of 1853 in England, every effort was
made to uphold Bell's machine; in some cases prizes were awarded to
it, though evidently partial; for in the face of these awards, some who
witnessed the trials, and had used Bell's machines, laid them aside and
purchased Hussey's. At the close of the season, as we learn from
reliable authority, even the engineers who operated Bell's, frankly
admitted that the American machine as exhibited by Hussey, was the
better implement, owing to the arrangement of the guards and knives;
Bell's required so much tinkering, that several machines were required
to cope with one of Hussey's. At the recent harvest,(i854) the Mark
Lane Express acknowledges that at the Royal Agricultural Societies'
show at Lincoln, Bell's machine was "at last fairly beaten" by Hus-
sey's, including McCormick's, and Hussey's machine received the prize
over all others. It is just, however, to add, that far as we consider
Bell's machine behind some of the present day, yet complex and cum-
bersome as it was, it combined more of the essential features of success,
than an}' Reaper that preceded it.

We now come to 1833, the date of Hussey's patent; and to 1834,
the date of C. H. McCormick's first patent. These were known and
admitted by all to have been the rivals for popular favor and patron-
age, from about the year 1844 or 1845 to the opening of the great
Industrial Exhibition in London, in 1851. To these, therefore, the
Enquiry will be more particularly directed.

We must however refer back for a brief period to 183 1 ; for although
C. H. McCormick's first patent was dated in 1834, yet when he applied
for his extension in 1848, he alleged that hisifwc7itio?i\va.s prior to Hus-
sey's, as he had invented a machine in 1831, two years before the date
of O. Hussey's, and three years before the date of his own patent. The
evidence produced {zvritte?i ^.nd prepared by C. H. McCormick and now
on file in the Patent Office) was deemed inadmissible and informal by
the Board, and it refused to go on with the examination either as to
priority or validity of invention without notice to Hussey — his patent
being called in question by McCormick — to be present when the dep-
ositions were taken.

Before however receiving the official notice, he was called on by
C. H. McCormick in Baltimore, and requested to sign a paper, agreeing
or admitting, that the testimony he had himself prepared should be con-
sidered evidence — i. e. considered formal; alleging that it would save
him trouble and expense in going to Virginia. This was declined by
Hussey on the ground that he might thus unwittingly injure himself;
he having previously applied for an extension of his own Patent.
Neither was he then aware of the nature of this evidence; or until this
interview, was he advised of C. H. McCormick's application for


Hussey was subsequently duly notified by order of the Board to be
present at taking the depositions in Augusta County, Virginia, — the
Board having adjourned three weeks for that purpose.

Either just previous, or subsequent to these proceedings the case
was referred by the Commissioner of Patents, or Board of extensions,
to Dr. Page, one of the Examiners of the office.

His report is as follows —

Patent Office, )

"Sir: Jan. 22d, 1848. \

In compliance with your requisition, I have examined the patent
of Cyrus H. McCormick, dated 31st June, 1834, and found that the
principal features embraced in said patent, viz: the cutting-knife and
mode of operating it, the fingers to guide the grain and the revolving
rack for gathering the grain, were not new at the time of granting said
letters patent.

The knife-fingers and general arrangements and operation of the
Cutting apparatus are found in the reaping machine of O. Hussey,
patented 31st Dec. 1833.

The revolving rack presents novelty chiefly in form, as its opera-
tion is similar to the revolving frame of James Ten Eyck, patented 2nd
November 1825. Respectfully submitted,

Chas. G. Page, Examiner."
Hon. Edmund Burke, Com'r.of Patents.

As some have enquired, and others may enquire, why a patent
should issue under these circumstances, we reply, that previous to 1836
but little, if any examination was made as to priority of inventions, or
into preceding Patents; the applicant made oath as to his invention,
and the patent was issued as a matter of course. And as another mat-
ter of course, if the rival interests clashed, litigation was the result: —
the Courts and juries often decided what they little understood, and
at times not at all, after the pleading of well fee'd lawyers: a pretty
fair illustration of the fable of the boys and frogs: it may be fun for
the lawyers but it is death to the hopes of many a poor patentee. We
are however pleased to perceive a disposition manifested by the
courts to sustain patents; even if occasionally an unjust claim is rec-
ognized as a valid one, it is better, according to the legal and moral
maxim, that half a dozen rogues should escape punishment for a time,
than that one innocent person should be unjustly convicted: the rogue
is almost certain to be caught in the end, and truth will ultimately

This testimony was taken in due form at Steele's Tavern, Augusta
County, Va., McCormick and Hussey both being present. It is too
voluminous to copy entire, but we will refer briefly to each, having
read them carefully, and obtained certified copies of all, from the
Patent office.

Dr. N. M. Hitt — testified to a reaping machine being made byC.H.
McCormick in 1831 — it had a straight sickle blade.

William S. McCormick and Leander J. McCormick, brothers of
C. H. McCormick, also testified to the making of a machine in 1831.


Mary McCormick. — mother of C. H. McCormick; agreed in gen-
eral with the testimony of her sons, — did not doubt but it was correct,
" it appears familiar to me," but testified to nothing in particular.

John Steele, Jr. — Was tavernkeeper at "Steele's Tavern" — testified
as to the year being 1831 or 1832. In his amended testimony, admitted
that C. H. McCormick wrote the paper describing the machine for him
to testify to; recollects little else about the machine than the straight
sickle edge.

Eliza H. Steele — refused to testify, without first seeing a certificate
previously signed by her; admitted that C. H. McCormick wrote it for
her to sign; her testimony as to the year, depended on the building of
a certain house, on which the workmen put 183 1.

John McCown — was a black-smith — testified that he made the
" straight sickle blade," and that it was " a long straight sickle " blade.

This was most singular testimony to found a claim of priority of
invention on, and by which to invalidate another man's patent. There
was discrepancy in the evidence as to the year of the invention; also
whether the machine was intended for one or two horses; how the
" fingers" were arranged, and whether of ivood or iro7i, above or below,
the " straight sickle blade." Two of the brothers — one at least who
helped to make, if not also to invent this machine — testified that the
plan or arrangement of the machine here sworn to, was changed in
1840, 1841, 1842, or 1843, they did not know which; from g to 12 years

John McCown swears positively that he helped to build the machine,
so far at least as to forge "a long straight sickle;" but neither he, or a
single one of the seven sworn witnesses, ''ladies znd gentlemen," testify
that the machine ever worked a single hour, or cut as much grain of
any kind as would make a single sheaf !*

In a long communication to Com'r. Burke in 1848, together with a
list of sales and profits, C. H. McCormick states, and on oath, that
he had exhibited his machine in 1840 or 1841 to a considerable
number of farmers and very satisfactorily, though but one person could
be induced to purchase — a Mr, John Smith we believe — and that up to
1842, eleve?i years after the alleged invention, he had sold but two
machines, and one of them conditionally. Again, in the same paper he
states, " but the}' failed to operate well," and had to be altered: — in
other words they would not work at all. Amongst others, he had

* The readinpf of this testimony strongly reminds us of an anecdote related at
the hustings in Va. by that talented but eccentric character, John Randolph, of Roa-
noake, in a political canvass with an opponent, who promised what he would do for his
constituents, if elected. Randolph told him he was like one of h s overseers, a plaus-
ible fellow, but on whom little reliance was to be placed — and who, desiring to show
what fine crops he had raised, exhibited a better tally board than the crop could jus-
tify. "I told him," said Randolph, "this is very good tally, John, but where's the
corn? and I tell the gentleman, I don't want to see his tally, but the corn — the evi-
dence of what he ever did to entitle him to a seat in Congress." The effect was
electric, and the hustings rang with plaudits. Now we would say to C. H. McCor-
mick, this is very good tally John, but where's the Corn? The evidence that the
machine ever cut a single acre of grain.


applied to " the farmer of Virginia, Mr. Sampson," for a certificate as
to the satisfactory working of the machine, but it was declined.

We are not surprized at this; for some 35 years ago we were per-
sonally acquainted with this " farmer «of Virginia," and also with his
mode of farming; and know that a machine of any kind to please him
?n7ist zuork and must also work " well." Richard Sampson was at that

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Online LibraryEdward] 1794-1883 [StablerA brief narrative of the invention of reaping machines; → online text (page 1 of 13)