Lawnmowers have been aiding people with their gardening duties for ages. Before mowers, grass was cut using shears or a scythe, which was incredibly time-consuming, and grazing animals like sheep or cows would “cut” the grass as they ate. It is difficult to imagine a world where simply mowing the lawn is a challenging task, yet the lawnmower has come a very long way since its birth in 1830. Let’s take the time to appreciate the evolution of the lawnmower and cutting grass as we examine the steps between the very first mowers and today’s modern gadgets.
Lawnmowers with reels have been around for a long time — this was the first style that was first introduced in England in 1830 by Edwin Budding. They were inspired by cloth cutting machines that had a cylinder with blades to scrape a smooth surface. These original mowers were extremely heavy and difficult to push, but they were the first of their kind. In the 1840s, a reel mower that could be attached to a horse was designed, making the job much easier. The mower would be pulled by the horse and a person would direct and push the mower from behind. In 1868, the push mower came to America, with it becoming widely popular with the public in 1870. These later push mowers were much lighter and more user-friendly than the heavy original models.
Rotary Push mowers
While the reel mower required no power as it spins as it gets pushed, the rotary mower has a single, horizontal blade that spins in a circle. The rotary blade was much more efficient but needed refinement. In 1899, John Albert Burr patented the first rotary blade push mower. Burr was born in Maryland to parents who were slaves, but were later freed. Growing up during slavery and the Civil War, Burr worked as a field hand for many years. Because of his work, he had a deep understanding of mechanics, allowing him to go to university and develop this improved lawnmower design. He is an important African American inventor and his invention closely resembles modern-day rotary push mowers, as its wheels had better traction and allowed for mowing close to walls and other objects.
Around the 1920s and '30s came the commercialized rotary push lawn mower that appeared in everyone’s homes. Once lawnmowers could become powered, either with gasoline or steam, it became much easier to implement an efficient rotary blade. These rotary mowers were mostly powered by gasoline and had covered decks that encased the blade. These are today’s most common type of push mower, and many companies that developed it in the beginning are still leading the industry, such as Kut Kwick, Briggs & Stratton, and Toro.
Riding mowers came not too long after the original reel push mower in the 1890s. It became commercially available in the early 1900s by Ransomes. These mowers were chain-driven and used steam- or gas-powered engines, making them lighter, quieter, and more efficient. These mowers became extremely popular around the early 1920s.
In the United States, Cecil Pond invented the riding lawn mower for Wheel Horse Products. This is an early look at what would become the modern-day riding mower, as it was gas-powered and very easy to use. The four-wheel lawn tractor was introduced in 1954; extremely popular after WWII, this mower was ideal for suburban homes and gave way to the lawn tractors that would be later developed by well-known companies.
In 1955, Max Booth Swisher designed and produced the first commercially accessible zero-turn mower that was marketed as the "Ride King". Compared to modern zero-turn mowers, the Ride King used a single front wheel that the engine would drive in one direction, but could turn 360 degrees. To go in reverse or use the zero-turn radius maneuver, one would rotate the wheel 180 degrees. Modern zero-turn mowers drive the rear wheels and feature front wheels mounted in swiveling casters, and are much easier to maneuver compared to lawn tractors and other riding mowers. Zero-turn mowers can provide users with a clean-cut lawn in less time with less hassle.
Although tractors had been used on farms in the United States since the early twentieth century, lawn tractors were not created for the ordinary homeowner until the late 1950s and early 1960s. The 110 Lawn and Garden Tractor, John Deere's first residential model, was released in 1963. Other manufacturers quickly followed suit in this newly created market.
George Ballas, an entrepreneur, had the concept for the string trimmer in 1971. Ballas was inspired by the rotating brushes at the car wash and constructed a rotary lawn edger with a tin can and fishing line. String trimmers, otherwise known as weed whackers, are commonly used for getting those tough-to-reach spots after mowing. They use a spinning component threaded with a durable string, usually made of plastic. As the trimmer spins, the force moves the string at fast enough speeds that it can cut through blades of grass and other foliage. He had a gadget that cut beneath fences, around boulders, and around trees in no time. In the 1980s, the business DR Power Equipment is credited with developing the first wheeled string trimmers. The wheels were added to relieve lawn enthusiasts of the stress of moving large gas-powered weed whackers around. However, most string trimmers are commonly seen without wheels today as they are more lightweight and easier to maneuver than before.
Enter the lawnmowers of the future: robot mowers. They work similarly to robot vacuums, using set perimeters as guides and sensors to navigate their whereabouts. Perhaps surprisingly, it was in 1969 when the first robot mower was made by MowBot. Since then, robot mowers have made drastic improvements and have become even more accessible to the public. Instead of using wired perimeters like the original, these robots can map your yard and create their own boundaries. Some are compatible with other smart apps and make mowing your lawn a breeze.
We live in a world where both business and residential customers have a plethora of options when it comes to lawn care. Consequently, individuals can mow their lawns with much of the same expertise and simplicity as pros without breaking the bank, and gardening experts have embraced newer and smarter technology that allow them to quickly cut large swaths of land. It is crazy to see the changes in lawnmowers over the last 200 years, and they will only continue to advance over time.