Wednesday, November 19, 2008


This picture was taken in 1940, and shows a farmer turning up his pinto bean field. I love the scene because the farmer is plowing with two horses. I believe they are horses; they might be mules. I wonder what productivity boost farmers got when tractors came along. You would have to be able to plow much more land with a tractor that with horses, but I don't really know what the improvement factor was.


  1. For that matter, imagine the increase in productivity using the horse drawn plough in the photo compared to the sort that Abraham Lincoln used. I once read that there were no major technological improvements in agriculture between the time of ancient Rome until the mid 1800's. Then, with the introduction of steel shovels, steel ploughs, etc, production really took off.

    Thanks once again for another fine photo.

  2. Hi there and greetings from London, England. I saw your site mentioned at Neatorama and thought I'd add my 5 pence worth of praise.

    Congratulations on a great site. It's taken residence in my Google Reader "Photography" section alongside such exalted company as Strobist, Thomas Hawk, Ross Halfin and Drew Gardner.

    I don't know where you get the pictures from but assuming it's a "lost and found" arrangement can I suggest you start visiting BootFairs - I think you call them Garage Sales - and rummage rummage rummage. Lots of peope just throw them out.

    Still, enough from me. Thank you for a great job.


  3. From what I can research quickly, it appears that the steam tractor (what really was the replacement for the horse/mule) increased productivity by a factor of 1.5 to 2. It could, however work longer without getting tired and didn't need to be fed during non-productive seasons. The gasoline or diesel tractor greatly increased productivity because you could get the power of 10, 30 or even 150 horses working for you. This meant faster pulling and much wider equipment to cover more ground per hour.

  4. I believe that's a cultivator, used to break up the surface of the soil, for aeration, weed control and conservation of moisture.

    The alternative was by hand with a hoe, so a cultivator pulled by horses eliminated a lot of back breaking labor and allowed tending larger fields/crops.

    Tractors increased the size of the field/crop, a farmer could grow, exponentially.

  5. Marie-

    Your history is poor at best. I don't even know where to start pointing out the fallacies in your post.


    You are correct, it is a cultivator, rather than a plow. Notice the two small 'shoes', offset to weed a single row, as opposed to a single plow.

    Also, steam/diesel/gas powered tractors are more efficient on relatively flat land, but horses can work on much steeper terrain. Not that this makes any real difference in overall efficiency, just a small factoid.

  6. If you pay attention to the quality of the photos its hard to say it was taken before the 1990s


  7. Tractors increased efficiency so much that suddenly thousands of young men who traditionally worked as farm hands were thrown out of work. This spurred development in Manitoba and across Canada of techinal colleges to increase the skills of farmhands. But then World War 1 broke out and things were put on hold for a little bit.


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