Cotton Harvesting: A Brief History
The cotton industry has played a major part in the history of the United States. This crop has influenced the economy, war, migration and more. As cotton harvesting and cotton harvester parts changed over the decades, cotton helped shape the nation.
Are you familiar with this history? Following is a brief overview of the development of cotton harvester parts and how these inventions affected the industry as a whole.
In the early 1900s, the U.S. was producing more than 16 million bales of raw cotton each year. These were processed and used to create products such as clothing. The challenge with this high level of production was the difficulty in harvesting the plant.
Removing the cotton from the mature boll (the protective case) is a difficult task. Before modern machinery was invented, cotton was picked by hand. Because the plants matured at different rates, this hand-picking had to occur several times each harvest season.
Pickers did not have cotton harvester parts and the combines of today. They simply walked through the fields, removing the mature cotton fibers by hand and placing them in large sacks which they dragged behind them. This was difficult work, as the bags could weigh up to 100 pounds when full, and the sharp spikes on the plants left their fingers bloody and sore.
To improve on this labor-intensive process, harvesters started working on cotton harvester parts to introduce to the industry. Early efforts included a variety of solutions. Between 1850 and 1950, over 1,800 patents were issued for cotton harvesting parts. None were successful until International Harvester’s Model H-10-H in 1942.
Before this model was introduced, inventors tried pneumatic mechanisms to vacuum up the cotton. Other inventions included adaptations of grain threshing machines. Still others tried to use static electricity to collect the cotton. Using mechanical fingers to pluck the cotton seemed like a promising idea, but it too failed. None of these solutions harvested enough of the cotton to be worthwhile, and most damaged the crops, making further harvesting impossible.
The successful prototype was a spindle-style mechanism. A series of moistened spindles turned at high speed and, when encountering an open boll, the fibers wrapped around the spindles. A doffer (roller) then removed the fibers for transport to a hopper.
Around the time that these cotton harvester parts were introduced, the industry saw three other critical advances. Cotton breeders developed hybrid plants that produced bolls higher off the ground and that ripened uniformly. This made harvesting by combine easier and more efficient. Additionally, herbicides were introduced that could cause the plants to drop their leaves, so the harvest would be cleaner. This combination of new techniques dramatically improved cotton production and changed the industry forever.
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