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The Reel Lawnmower

By James B. Ricci

October 20, 2023

The first patent for a “machine for mowing lawns, etc.” was granted to Edwin Beard Budding from Stroud, Gloucestershire, England, on August 31, 1830. Budding entered into an agreement with John Ferrabee, the owner of Phoenix Foundry at Thrupp Mill, Stroud, to produce the mower.


Reel lawn mowers were produced domestically at least by 1856, many years before the first United States patent for a reel lawn mower was granted to Amariah Hills on January 12, 1868.


What exactly is a reel lawn mower? The reel or cylinder mower, as it is called in England, shears grass in the same way a pair of scissors works. The cutting blades are riveted or welded to a series of spiders, which are located on a central shaft. As the shaft turns, the blades come in contact with the non-moving bed knife to cut the blades of grass.


With the invention of the reel lawn mower, instead of spending many hours using a scythe, sickle, or shears to get an unevenly cut lawn, one could simply and comfortably push a reel lawn mower. The entry of the horse-drawn mower, with its wide reels, allowed estate owners to cut their vast lawns and playing fields more quickly and cheaply.


Even though its popularity dropped precipitously after the Second World War, the reel lawn mower has been here all along. Several hundred thousand hand or push mowers are currently being made with the number increasing yearly as more home owners seek to return to a quieter, greener method of cutting the grass on the smaller plots of urban America.


About the Author:


Jim is a member of the Society of Industrial Archeology, the Early American Industries Association, and the Ephemera Society of America. He has published articles in and has close ties with Lawn and Garden Tractor Magazine, Gas Engine Magazine, and Farm Show Magazine. And he has been featured in publications from the Daily Hampshire Gazette of Northampton, Massachusetts, to Sunday Morning CBS News and The Washington Post for his efforts in chronicling the history of the reel lawn mower.


Jim would be pleased to hear from you or to field your question about your antique lawn mower. Email him at jricci@reellawnmower.com to start a conversation about all things (Vintage, Antique, Old) lawn mower.


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