Cotton has long been one of the staple commodities of the United States and it could be argued that our burgeoning commerce today is a product of the prolific cotton industry from centuries past. Cotton has breathed life into numerous facets of industry and driven innovation in a way that’s matched only by natural resources in historical impact. Today, it’s easy to forget that the many machines and techniques we use for harvesting cotton were once just prospects, driven to fruition by the sheer demand of the cotton trade.
Take a look at a brief history of cotton picking technologies and all of the effort it took to bring this industry to the high level of cotton harvester parts and components we utilize today:
The first technologies
Prior to the 1930s, cotton harvesting was done entirely by hand—it wasn’t until a man named John Rust came up with a “harvesting locomotive” in the late 1930s that any semblance of harvesting innovation became a reality. Unfortunately, Rust’s prototype was expensive, unreliable and prone to breaking down, which kept it from any real commercial exposure. Only a few models were produced and those quickly faded into obscurity as a pipe dream… until the mid 1940s!
Starting in the early 1940s, improvements were made to Rust’s ideas and a comprehensive redesign of the harvesting locomotive was undertaken. The product was a new and improved harvester—the first to feature cotton picker spindles and what would one day become doffers. But, while this invention did work to reduce labor dramatically, it also slightly degraded the cotton and soon, the need for more improvement came to light.
In the 1950s, the cotton harvester entered a phase that’s closer to what we see now than what we saw at the start. With a reinforced steel frame and multiple rows of cotton picker spindles, the harvester also featured a basket to catch and store cotton! In just ten short years, an operator’s cabin would be added to the design and material reinforcements would become a focus of improving the harvester.
Fast forward to 1980 and along comes John Deere: this is where tremendous improvements became to take form and cotton harvesters would quickly become the focus of mass production. Deere’s new and improved models featured a comprehensive overhaul of key cotton harvester parts, with an emphasis on quality, with the result being an increase in picking production by 85-95 percent! Thus, the four-row picker was born.
The new age of pickers
Today, John Deere remains an innovator in the world of cotton harvesting. With the six-row picker introduced in the mid 1990s and later, in 2009, the capability to bail cotton as it’s being picked, manual labor has been almost entirely eliminated from the harvesting of cotton. With state of the art parts and components, today’s cotton harvesters are the pinnacle of innovation, driven so far from modest beginnings just a century ago.
What’s next in the world of cotton harvester parts? It’s hard to tell, but it’s a safe bet to say that whatever the next innovation is, it’ll be one that makes harvesting cotton even easier on the hardworking farmers who continue to abide by this longstanding commodity.