The History of the Cotton Picker

Cotton has been one of the most important crops in America since the colonial days. Once the Industrial Revolution kicked into full gear, inventors began tinkering with ways to develop machines that would pick cotton for them, rather than having to have tons of workers out in the field picking it by hand.

In the late 1920s, John Daniel Rust began developing the very first practical cotton picker. There are other inventors who had attempted to create mechanical cotton pickers of their own, using barbed spindles that twisted the fibers onto the spindle, pulling the cotton off the boll as a result. However, those designs were often not functional, and were impractical due to how easily the spindles would get clogged up with cotton.

Rust’s design, which had a major impact on the way cotton pickers would be designed in years to come, featured a smooth, moist spindle that would strip the cotton fibers off the boll without resulting in a machinery clog. By 1933, he had his first patent for a cotton picker, and eventually collected 47 total patents (along with his brother Mack) for cotton picking machinery.

Of course, as the Great Depression was underway at this time, it was nearly impossible to get the financing they needed to make their mechanical cotton picker used on a widespread basis. But they continued working nonetheless.

Breakthroughs and adoption

In 1935, John and Mack Rust founded their Rust Cotton Picker Company in Memphis, Tennessee. The next year, they demonstrated their model of the Rust picker at the Delta Experiment Station in Stoneville, Mississippi. This was a significant step forward for the brothers. Even though the picker did have some significant drawbacks and deficiencies, the idea of a mechanical cotton picker was extremely attractive to farmers and investors in the area. The demonstration resulted in significant nationwide attention and press coverage.

Despite the greater coverage, though, the brothers did not have the resources needed to manufacture their cotton picker on a much larger scale. As such, other companies swooped in to attempt to create their own cotton pickers that were not based on the Rust brothers’ patents.

The arrival of World War II put a significant delay on widespread adoption of cotton pickers, even as International Harvester developed its first commercially successful cotton picker in 1944.

Once the war was over, the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company started manufacturing cotton pickers that improved on many parts of the Rusts’ design. The success of this machinery led to the development of other pickers, with the technology being gradually improved as more and more American cotton farmers adopted the technology.

Today’s cotton pickers are obviously more advanced and easier to use, but many of the basic elements still hearken back to the initial design created by the Rust brothers in the 1930s.

For more information about the history of cotton pickers, contact Certi-Pik, USA today. We specialize in the fabrication and sale of a wide range of cotton picker parts, and look forward to showing you what we can do for you!