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The Mechanization of Reaping and Mowing in American Agriculture, 1833–1870


  • Olmstead, Alan L.


The successful demonstration of reaping machines by Obed Hussey and Cyrus McCormick in 1833 and 1834 inaugurated long series of events that eventually revolutionized the harvesting of small grains and grasses, drastically altering the lives and productivity of grain farmers. Given the ultimate success and widespread impact of the reaping machine, historians have long pondered why almost twenty years elapsed between the date when Obed Hussey sold his first machine in 1833 and the first wave of popular acceptance in the mid-1850's. Why did it take twenty years for a significant number of farmers to begin to exchange their cradles and scythes for reapers and mowers? What important economic and technological factors governed the initial diffusion of this invention? These are important historical questions, the answers to which can significantly influence our broader perceptions of the problem of technological diffusion.

Suggested Citation

  • Olmstead, Alan L., 1975. "The Mechanization of Reaping and Mowing in American Agriculture, 1833–1870," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 35(2), pages 327-352, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:35:y:1975:i:02:p:327-352_07

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    Cited by:

    1. Daniel P. Gross, 2018. "Scale versus scope in the diffusion of new technology: evidence from the farm tractor," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 49(2), pages 427-452, June.
    2. Rebecca Taylor & David Zilberman, 2017. "Diffusion of Drip Irrigation: The Case of California," Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 39(1), pages 16-40.
    3. Taylor, Rebecca & Zilberman, David, 2015. "The Diffusion of Process Innovation: The Case of Drip Irrigation in California," 2015 AAEA & WAEA Joint Annual Meeting, July 26-28, San Francisco, California 205320, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    4. Lew, Byron, 2000. "The Diffusion of Tractors on the Canadian Prairies: The Threshold Model and the Problem of Uncertainty," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 37(2), pages 189-216, April.
    5. Sarkar, Jayati, 1998. " Technological Diffusion: Alternative Theories and Historical Evidence," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 12(2), pages 131-176, April.

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