It’s been an awfully dry spring in southeastern Wisconsin. Even so, the grass around the Historian’s house has gotten pretty tall and scruffy. Time to get out the mower and tidy up the yard.
Maurer, Louis, Artist. The climax mower, most complete and perfect mower in the world, the Corry Machine Co., Corry, Pen. / L. Maurer. United States, None. [N.y.: the major & knapp eng., mfg. & lith. co., between 1869 and 1872] Photograph. Library of Congress.
This particular advertisement for The Climax Mower dates from 1869-1872, after Mary Clark and her children left the Clark farm and moved to Milwaukee. Perhaps the subsequent farmers on the Clark farm, Fred Beckmann, Sr. (from 1868-1872), or the John and Catherine Doyle family (from 1872 onward), owned something similar. If you’d like to see a recent video of a similar mower in action, click this link. It’s not a long video; the view of the mower is better at the end.
Back in the 1840s and ’50s, the Jonathan Clark family would have probably cut the tall grass around the farmhouse—and the hay in the fields—with a scythe. Advanced grass-cutting technology such as The Climax Mower would not have been available until sometime in the 1870s.1
Using a scythe to cut grass or hay is hard work, but not as impossible as it may seem. A well-sharpened scythe in the hands of a practiced user can be surprisingly effective. Here’s a link to a short video of some old-school2 scything in Wales:
There is also a wide world of modern competitive scything. Start here for a fun, if longish, video example.
I’ll be back with more Mequon history soon. Meanwhile, stay hydrated, keep your tools sharp, and don’t forget your sunscreen.
- At least, I don’t think mechanical mowers like this become available until the 1870s. I did some research while writing this post and—don’t be shocked—there is not a lot of easily-accessible mechanical-mower history online. But as best I can tell, The Climax Mower circa 1868-1872 may be a very early example of the device in this form (at least in the United States).
- So old-school that this couple is not wearing shoes while scything. All things considered, I’d wear shoes while swinging a long, sharp-bladed tool from side to side while walking through tall grass. But it’s a nice video all the same. And the linked website has a lot of information—and additional videos—on scythes and their uses.