The Iowa Agriculturist
The handling of corn is one of the toughest jobs on the farm. For many
farmers, it's hard to imagine how corn could be harvested without the
sophisticated machinery of today.
A hundred years ago, corn harvesting required more labor than any other
farm crop. Corn was used not only for grain, but the stalk and leaves
made good feed for horses, cattle, and sheep.
Farmers had to chop down the cornstalks one at a time, and stack them
in shocks to dry. A field of shocks, like hundreds of teepees in straight
rows, was a magnificent sight.
But this was not all. After the stalks had dried, they were loaded on
wagons and taken to the farmstead.
Then they were shucked by hand or by machine. Some parts went into the
barn for livestock, while the ears were moved to a corncrib for further
Sometimes the corn was shucked in the field from standing
stalks. The ears were stripped from the stalk and tossed into a wagon,
which was slowly moved through the field. This greatly increased the farmer's
workload and was a terrible task.
As machines were invented, the time needed to harvest corn
was lessened. Also, farmers could grow more corn without increasing the
workload too much. Early machines took over cutting and bundling of stalks
but left a lot of handwork such as hauling and shucking to the farmer.
From: Explorations in Iowa History Project, Price Laboratory
School, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA
Photos used by permission from the State Historical Society