Patent no. 19507. Filing year 1884.
"Machine for Planting Corn," John M. Warner.
Planting devices predate harvesting technology by more than a century. As early as the 16th century, farmers were using simple devices to carry and scatter, or "broadcast," seeds through the field. By the 18th century, farmers were cutting furrows in the earth to plant seeds, and planting devices were developed that were variations of hand-held cultivators. As a farmer dug the furrow with the cultivator, he or she moved a slide in an attached seed-box to drop a seed at the proper interval.
It wasn't long before wheeled planters were developed to drop seeds as the furrows were dug. Then came machines that could plant multiple rows, increasing productivity immensely. Corn planting, however, had special requirements. By the 1850s, some farmers were planting groups of three or four seeds at regular intervals that, from the air, would have resembled a checkerboard pattern. This allowed weeding with the horse-drawn tillers that had replaced manual hoeing. However, it also meant seeds had to be lined up with each other in two directions. In the 1870s, machines emerged that could accurately plant check-rows, and Joseph Pelletier's corn planter, patented in 1886, is an example of this.
The corn planter patented by John Warner of Hamilton, Ontario, in 1884, meanwhile, took a different approach. Warner's handheld planter, which bears some resemblance to the mechanical tree planters still used today by reforestation companies, was equipped with a plunger that, when inserted into the hill, ejected the seed from a seed-box on the shaft. When the plunger was retracted, the seed-chute closed, preventing seeds from escaping until the next plunge.
Despite the efficiency and speed of furrow planters like Pelletier's, many farmers avoided digging furrows, preferring manual planters, such as Warner's, for decades. In the 20th century, however, improvements in wheeled planters and the increase in productivity they provided made the switch to that system inevitable.
Thanks to Franz Klingender, agriculture curator, Canada Agricultural Museum, for his assistance with this profile.
Barlow, Ronald Stokes. 300 Years of Farm Implements and Machinery: 1630-1930. Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2003.
Blandford, Percy W. Old Farm Tools and Machinery: An Illustrated History. Fort Lauderdale, Florida: Gale Research Company, 1976.
"Agriculture Implements from Conner Prairie's Collection."
(accessed November 12, 2005).