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The Iowa Agriculturist

Threshing and Husking

After grain and corn had been harvested, the farmer had to thresh or shell it. Threshing is the process of removing the grain from the heads. Shelling is the removal of the kernels from the ears.

The job of threshing was done by beating the grain out of the heads of the plant. The farmer or thresher would use a short wooden club attached to a long handle with a piece of leather. Obviously, this was hard work and required additional labor to separate the grain from the chaff.

Threshing and cleaning grain.

In the late 1700's people invented horse-powered threshing machines to reduce the workload.

In 1837 Hiram A. and John A. Pitts of Maine developed a highly improved thresher. Their machine threshed the grain from the heads, separated the straw by a blower, and removed the chaff from the grain in a single operation.

These newer threshers required a crew of people to operate. Later, steam threshers replaced the horse-powered threshers. They required an engineer and at least fifteen other people. Horse-drawn wagons hauled the grain to and from the thresher. Threshing was a neighborhood operation because of the large number of people it required.

Early steam-powered harvester drawn by two horses.

Eventually, in the Great Plains and Far West, a harvester-thresher, or combine, was developed. This greatly reduced the job of harvesting the grain and separating it from the rest of the plant.

In the mid-1800's inventors were also coming up with easier ways of removing the ears of corn from the stalks, stripping the husks, and grinding them into feed called fodder. Most of the husker-shredders worked the same way. Stalks of corn were fed into a roller, which snapped off the ears. The stalks were then pushed through a series of knives and smashed. The shredded fodder then fell into a blower, which passed it through a funnel and out of the machine onto the stack. The ears dropped from the snapping rollers to the husking rollers. Kernels that were removed by the husking rollers fell through a screen, where a fan blew away dirt particles before the grain fell into a box under the machine.

Both the threshing and husking machines were important farm equipment. They made possible increased yields from farmers' fields while reducing the amount of labor.

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 of Iowa.

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