More than 400 honorees have been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, founded in 1973 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and National Council of Intellectual Property Law Associations.
The inventions of at least two dozen inductees are connected with agriculture. Not surprisingly, these ag trailblazers are also among the most famous of all inventors.
A new class of honorees is inducted each May into the Hall of Fame, located on the University of Akron campus. Here's a snapshot of a few of the inductees tied to agriculture.
Cyrus McCormick is well-known for inventing the mechanical reaper for harvesting small grain, which he patented in 1834. His invention greatly reduced labor and enabled farmers to significantly increase their acreage.
McCormick's was not the first mechanical harvester. But he successfully combined all of the essential components that earlier harvesting machines had separately performed. He then built a factory in Chicago and began mass manufacture of his machines, founding what became the International Harvester Company. McCormick greatly expanded sales through door-to-door contacts and written guarantees.
He continued to innovate, eventually replacing his initial reaper with a self-propelled combine, operated by a single individual, that cut and threshed the grain in one operation.
John Deere was a skilled blacksmith in Vermont who escaped to Grand Detour, Ill., barely a step ahead of the bill collectors. There, he was besieged by tales of frustration when cast-iron plows that worked so well in light sandy New England soils were ineffective in turning tough sticky prairie soils.
Salvaging an old sawmill blade, he fashioned a highly polished steel plow that cleaned itself as it moved through the field.
The steel plow caught on quickly, and by 1846, Deere and his partner were manufacturing and selling a thousand plows annually. In 1848, Deere moved his operation to Moline, Ill., to take advantage of Mississippi River water power and transportation. Deere continued to improve his design even as sales increased.
George Washington Carver was born to slave parents in Diamond Grove, Mo. He worked as a farmhand and studied in a one-room schoolhouse. Denied admission to Highland College because of his race, he was accepted at Iowa State Agricultural College, now Iowa State University.
Booker T. Washington invited Carver to come to Tuskegee Institute to serve as the school's director of agriculture. While at Tuskegee, Carver developed a crop rotation system alternating cotton with nitrogen-producing legumes (peanuts and peas). This enhanced cotton yields, but soon resulted in a surplus of peanuts, as well.
- Mid-February 2010