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The History of Tillers-When Were They First Invented

Since the rise of civilization and the farming that supported that transition, there has always been innovation to create the tools required to improve efficiency. Cultivators are necessary to till the land to improve the fertility and improve the health and yield of crops. This is equally true if you’re growing plants in a small yard or a multi-acre farm. The history of tillers is fascinating, and we can learn a lot from these principles as we consider farming in the future.

The History of Hand Tillers

Cows pulling old Wooden Plough

Before power tiller history began, there were thousands of years when hand tillers were closely linked to the rise of civilization. These early cultures could only develop around collective food production because the need for regular food could not be sustained by hunting and gathering alone. The ancient Egyptians, Incas, and other societies began basic farming when they learned how to dig holes in the soil with sharp sticks to plant seeds.

The first examples of plows were old tree branches that were used to scratch the soil surface to create a seed bed. This basic form of cultivation is still used in less developed parts of the world to this day. The first plows that we would recognize were invented in the 17th century, and they were designed to invert and mix soil layers.

At the start of the 18th century, these plows were more advanced and pulled by teams of horses or oxen. Although the seed was still sown by hand, it was obvious that the farming processes were becoming reliant on mechanization.

The Recent History of Tillers

American ingenuity plays an important part. The cast iron plow was invented, and in 1837, this was surpassed by the steel plow, which was invented by John Deere. The use of tillers expanded further from the mid-1800s, and western societies moved from subsistence farming to full blown commercial enterprises.

The wide open spaces in America encouraged farmers to plant more acres than ever before. The Census of Agriculture reports that the total farming land in the U.S. had grown to 623 million acres by 1890. This was an increase of 87 million acres from just a decade earlier and the Midwest is where the greatest growth occurred. Around 50 million additional acres of farms in these areas were classed as improved which means that it was regularly mowed or tilled.

This unparalleled growth in plowing and tills was required to feed a rapidly growing nation, and it continued into the early 20th century. In 1920, there were 955 million acres of farmland in the U.S, and more than half of that land was plowed on a regular basis. Intensive farming had become the standard approach to feed the entire nation. That all changed when the dust bowl arrived. This man-made and natural disaster changed the way that farmers considered crop rotation, and it crippled food production.

When Did Humans Start Tilling Soil?

Horses Ploughing with wooden Tiller

In the earliest stages of farming, tilling would be performed by human labor and this was often carried out by slaves. Keeping hooved animals tilled the land because the hooves would tear up the soil, and pigs naturally root into the ground when foraging. But, these are hit and miss approaches, and the invention of the wooden plow was a revelation.

These primitive tilling devices could be pulled by humans, mules, oxen, and even elephants in certain parts of the world. Horses were always considered to be ill suited to this kind of work, but certain breeds were developed as draft horses to meet demand.

When Was The Tiller Invented? Who Invented The Tiller?

Modern power tiller history began in 1912 when Arthur Clifford Howard, an Australian inventor, started to experiment with a rotary tiller powered by a steam tractor engine. These earliest experiments were conducted on his father’s farm in New South Wales. He quickly learned that mechanical tilling could occur with no soil-packing, which had hindered traditional plowing for centuries.

His early designs distributed the tilled soil to the sides, and the addition of an L-shaped blade fixed to a small motor rectified this issue. Mr. Howard has plans to form a company to develop and build this machine for the agricultural industry, but the start of World War 1 caused an unexpected interruption.

After the war, Mr. Howard returned to Australia in 1919, and he resumed work on his tilling machine. In 1920, he patented the design which paired five rotary cultivator blades with an internal combustion engine. In 1922 he formed the Austral Auto Cultivators Pty Ltd. company, which later changed to Howard Auto Cultivators. From 1927 the company was based in Northmead, a suburb of Sydney.

History of Tillers picture of old tiller

Howard Auto Cultivators was a success, but it struggled to meet the global demand for powered tilling machines, and up-scaling the business became a necessity. In 1938, Mr. Howard traveled to the UK and founded the Rotary Hoes Ltd. company in Essex.

In subsequent years this company opened branches in the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, South Africa, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand. Rotary Hoes Ltd. became the holding company for Howard Rotavator Co. Ltd.

In 1985, this family of companies was acquired by the Thirge Agro Group from Denmark. In 2000 the Howard Group joined Kongskilde Industries of Soroe, which is also based in Denmark. The company continues to make powered tillers to this day.

What Tools Did Farmers Use In The 1700s?

In the 1700s, agricultural technology was crude wooden plows towed by draft horses or oxen. Some hand cultivation with a hoe took place, and all seed sowing was carried out by hand. When it was time to harvest crops, they would be cut by hand with a sharp curved sickle and threshed with a flail to release the grain.

What Are The Oldest Agriculture Tools?

Ancient plows were simple forked sticks that were used to scratch crude trenches into the soil to plant seeds. The earliest examples have been dated at more than 5000 BC.

Why Did We Start Tilling?

The purpose of those earliest digging sticks to grow crops was to give the plants an advantage in the competition against unproductive weeds. When the soil is disturbed, the weeds that would compete with the crops for sunlight, water, nutrients, and space are killed off.

What Tools Did Medieval Farmers Use?

Medieval farmers were restricted in their farming efforts because they had crude tools. A typical farmer would use an ax, stick flails, hay forks, and moldboard plow pushed by a person to plant, grow and harvest their crops.

Conclusion of History of Tillers

As you can see, the history of tillers is fascinating and closely linked to the development of civilization. We have come a long way from sharpened sticks and forked branches. But, the basic principle of tilling has remained, and advanced farming techniques are refinements. A prime example would be advanced strip-tilling which precisely delivers nutrients to the seeds with high organic matter and residue to support their growth.