Clarendon College, Box 968, Clarendon, Texas 79226
Southern farmers have been as eager for a machine to harvest
cotton as their northern counterparts were for implements to speed
the production of wheat. Northern grain farmers were aided by the
introduction of Moses and Samuel Pennock's grain drill in 1841
and Cyrus McCormick's reaper in 1831. These inventions came
from Pennsylvania and Virginia respectively, both major grain
states in that period.
No similar technological breakthrough enabled the South to
expand the cotton frontier without large amounts of Negro slavery.
Thus, in part the South's vehemence in defending that
'peculiar institution.' It is ironic that the South should
have gained the cotton gin (1793) to process cotton fibers but was
denied a simple machine to harvest cotton, the greatest bottleneck
of all. If the South had had a cotton harvester would slavery
gradually have disappeared; could the Civil War have been
Southerners did design and patent implements for planting and
cultivating cotton. In the 1850's when the agricultural reform
movement was sweeping North Carolina and cotton enjoyed its most
prosperous decade, implement invention ran high. North Carolina
farmers and inventors patented three cotton planters, one
cotton-thinning plow, one cotton cleaning machine, seven plows, ten
cultivators and numerous other implements related to other crops of
In 1820, the desire to eliminate hand harvesting led a Louisiana
planter to import a cargo of monkeys to train them to pick cotton.
The experiment ended in failure when the monkeys fled into the
The first patent granted for a cotton harvesting machine was
Samuel S. Rembert and Jedidiah Prescott's, September 10, 1850
patent, number 7,631, subclass 48. The Memphis, Tennessee inventors
described their machine as combining picking cylinders and disks on
horizontal shafts. They anticipated future trends in cotton culture
when they added, 'Our cotton picking machine may be multiplied
and extended to such a width as to embrace several rows of cotton
Cotton farmers know the difference between a picker and a
stripper but others may be confused. A picker does just that, it
'picks' the cotton from the boll by means of revolving
spindles. And a picker usually is used more than once since cotton
is a continuous fruiting plant during the growing season. A picker
may make repeated trips through cotton as the bolls ripen.
Cotton strippers, equally old in patent history as pickers, are
used as a once-over harvest machine. Found in areas where weather
conditions prevent repeated harvests, strippers 'pull' the
entire boll, ripe or not.
The devices contrived to harvest cotton can be divided into six
1. Picker type - includes machines designed to pick open
bolls by means of spindles, fingers or prongs without material
damage to foliage or unopen bolls.
2. Thresher type - includes designs which sever the stalk
near the surface of the ground and take the entire stalk, together
with the seed cotton, into the machine where the vegetative matter
and the cotton are separated.
3. Pneumatic type - removes the cotton from the bolls by
suction or by blasts of air.
4. Electrical type - designs which use static electricity
present in cotton by attaching the bolls to an electrically charged
belt or finger to remove the cotton from the plant.
5. Chemical type - use solvents to loosen the ripened boll
from the plant.
6. Stripper type - includes those machines which employ such
devices as belted fingers, interlocking lugs, fingers or combs,
steel rolls or brushes to remove burr and all from the plant.
The stripper got its first widespread trial on the high, windy
Northwest Texas plains as early as 1914 when a farmer nailed fence
pickets on the front of a narrow sled. The idea was novel and
seemed to produce fair results. However, that farmer could not find
a gin that would accept his trash-laden cotton until he ran it
through his threshing machine to remove the worst of the trash and
break open the bolls not yet opened.
The term 'cotton sled' evolved from a misnomer since the
first strippers were mounted on sled runners. The idea of stripping
cotton in such fashion might have seemed unique in 1914, except
that John Hughes of New Berne, North Carolina received a patent
(Figure 1) March 28, 1871, for a stripper that. . . 'strips
from the plants the unopen as well as the open bolls or cups, and
loose cotton, which can afterward be separated by another machine
for that purpose.'
A stripper design patented by Z. B. Sims, Bonham, Texas, 1872,
bears striking resemblance to those first sleds used on the High
Plains. It was a finger-type stripper. Sims' patent included a
rake to be used by a man to rake the bolls back from the fingers
into a bag suspended from hooks (Figure 2). The patented design
invented by W. H. Pedrick, Richmond, Indiana, January 27, 1874
(Figure 3) was the prototype of the design commercialized by Deere
and Company in the late 1920's (Figure 4). It used two
revolving rolls made of steel and studded with pins to strip the
bolls from the plant without damage to unopen bolls.
Not one of these aforementioned patents succeeded commercially.
They failed to perform to the expectations of those who operated
them and as a result, hand labor continued to be the main harvest
method in all regions of the Cotton Belt until a combination of
events, without parallel occurred which favored mechanical
harvesting. One of the leading factors which doomed these early
attempts to mechanize the cotton harvest was the cotton plant
The cotton varieties grown before the intense effort to develop
a harvester were often tall, with rank growth which tangled the
bolls within a mass of heavy limbs when passing through the
machine. Differences in fruiting characteristics required repeated
pickings as bolls did not open at a uniform rate. It is doubltess
true that some feasible harvesters failed because of the lack of a
suitable cotton variety for machine harvesting.
Later designers were likewise hindered by the lack of flexible
power. Pending the successful introduction of a row crop tractor,
horses and mules were used. In this regard Northwest Texas farmers
were receptive to mechanization. The favorable response given
large-scale implements such as tractor-mounted listers, planters
and cultivators encouraged commercial manufacturers of cotton
At the time commercial models were introduced in the early
1920's two types of homemade strippers being used were the
so-called slot and finger strippers. The slot stripper used a
single recessed slot which ran the length of the sled from front to
rear. Two 2x4's, approximately two inches apart, one on each
side of the throat were fastened to the floor just back from the
throat. Running from floor level at the throat of the slot to the
top of the sled's box at the rear, the inclined boards
progressively stripped cotton as the sled passed down the row
The finger stripper used wooden or iron fingers, with wide
variations in dimensions to comb the cotton bolls from the row. A
man often stood in the sled box and raked the bolls back from the
fingers. Eight or more fingers were bolted or welded to a strap.
The fingers were usually hinged so they could be raised and lowered
to conform to the field's topography. Long fingers were found
superior to shorter lengths as they allowed plants to remain in a
normal position during stripping (Figure 6).
Sleds answered a critical need in the 1926 harvest by lowering
costs, even though they were inefficient in handling the largest
crop ever produced in Northwest Texas to that time. Construction
costs ranged from $9.00 to $27.00. It was estimated a sled (finger
or slot) could harvest four or five acres per day at a cost of
$2.75 per bale.
The harvest of 1926 was unusual in several ways. First, weather
conditions postponed harvest until fiber quality began to
deteriorate. Second, the bulk of the transient labor did not arrive
until late in the harvest due to considerable amounts of cotton to
be picked in older cotton growing regions in the state. By the time
farmers turned to sleds, virtually all the cotton bolls were open
and almost none had been harvested. Farmers were forced to use this
implement out of necessity. Ginners were prejudiced against sledded
cotton because of the poorer samples and higher ginning costs.
Texas High Plains ginners regularly charged a prevailing penalty of
$10.00 per bale on sledded cotton. Still the abundance of the 1926
crop combined with the scarcity of labor decreased the hardship of
this extra cost.
John Deere developed a one-row, two mule cotton stripper
equipped with two pin-studded rolls, (Figure 7).
In lineage the various prototypes of this machine were direct
descendents of W. H. Pedrick's 1874 cotton stripper. The
experimental models performed so well that Deere manufactured 500
more from 1930-31. That company also developed a two-row,
tractor-mounted stripper using a single pin-studded roll in the
late 1920's, (Figures 8, 9 and 10).
Deere was jointed in stripper development by International
Harvester Company who produced a model which used the frame of
their corn binder. The International model used interlocking lubs,
a principle later abandoned. Johnson Manufacturing Company,
Lub-bock, Texas manufactured a two-row, tractor-mounted, finger
stripper during the early 1930's. There were few strippers used
during the Great Depression when hand labor was plentiful and
As cotton sledding became more common in Northwest Texas
university agricultural engineers and agronomists turned to the
dual problems of developing both an improved stripper and cotton
varieties that could be successfully machine harvested. Texas
A&M College, College Station, began research work with a
project approved March 6, 1929. A man who later began a long-term
involvement with stripper development, Harris P. Smith, assumed
leadership of the project in May, 1930. Smith, the son of a farming
family from Mississippi, gained the nickname 'Horse Power'
Smith during his years in agricultural engineering. There is hardly
a phase of cotton production and agricultural engineering that has
not received his attention during his service at Texas A&M.
The Texas Station Cotton Harvester is the result of Smith's
and many others continuing effort to mechanize the cotton crop.
Beginning with tests on sleds and modifications of Deere's
horse-drawn strippers research continued from the late 1920's
until 1943 when results gathered in experimentation culminated with
a commercially marketed tractor stripper. The Texas Station Cotton
Harvester had more influence on stripper development in the
1930's and 40's than any other single machine. Through the
years of its continuous evolution, testing such factors as effect
of roll materials, roll angles, roll sizes and ways of eliminating
green bolls and screening trash, Texas A&M engineers discovered
a series of basic principles useful in later commercial
Coincidental to construction of test model strippers, Texas
A&M College also proceeded to remake the cotton plant itself.
At College Station and at Lubbock plant scientists were making
selections of individual plants exhibiting characteristics
desirable for machine harvesting. Work at Lubbock was directed
toward breeding early maturing cotton since this area had the most
severe climate, shortest growing season and least rainfall of all
the Cotton Belt. A variety named Ducona (cross of Durango and
Wacona cotton) was developed in the 1920's and the pioneering
traits of Ducona were later reproduced in such varieties as Mebane
95 and 96, Cut Leaf and Clark, Cut Leaf and Acala, and Macha. Mr.
H. A. Macha, a cotton farmer near Tahoka, Texas, found this cotton
growing in 1930 in a field of Half and Half. Its superior
conformation led Macha to hand select plants for several years.
About 1936, D. L. Jones of the Lubbock Station made similar
selections and named the variety for Mr. Macha. These later
varieties were in many cases more outstanding in stripper qualities
than the original Ducona.
To eliminate the excess bur and trash associated with machine
stripped cotton Texas Station engineers turned their attention to
perfecting a bur extractor and cleaner attachment for the Texas
Station Cotton Harvester. A method of eliminating transportation of
needless bulk and the desirability of returning this trash, known
to be as high as 42 per cent potash, to the soil, stimulated farmer
and gin owner interest alike. When developed, these tractor-mounted
attachments to the stripper produced Ducona cotton samples that
classed two grades higher than Ducona extracted and cleaned with
commercial equipment found in gins (1934). Could mechanization of
the cotton harvest be far from reality?
Farmer interest in mechanical harvesting was no doubt whetted by
progress reports issued by institutional agencies and the
advertisements of implement companies such as Deere and others.
Deere was so encouraged with their own models of horse-drawn models
in the early 1930's that they attempted to manufacture a large
number for the expected growing demand.
The nation-wide, world-wide economic decline of the thirties
ended all the bright promise of mechanizing the cotton harvest. The
Great Depression dried up virtually all demand for a mechanical
stripper. In the eastern end of the Cotton Belt John and Mac
Rust's struggle to perfect a spindle cotton picker was met with
angry frustration as people came to believe the machine would
displace thousands from badly needed jobs. Deere offered their
stripper for $185 on contract, $25 on delivery and $5 per bale
harvested. Still some John Deere dealers had such models on hand as
late as 1941, at prices as low as $15. Cotton prices as low as six
cents a pound and cash extremely scarce precluded expensive
machinery purchases and farmers found themselves hard-pressed just
to replace present machinery needs. Similarly with handsnapping
costs as low as 30 cents per hundred pounds, hand labor was made
It was war and the emergency demands for food and fiber that
brought the stripper out from eclipse. In 1943, the research
incorporated in the Texas Station Cotton Harvester was embodied in
a stripper manufactured by the C. E. Morris Company, Dallas, Texas.
Over 35 of these two-row, tractor-mounted strippers were sold to
farmers in the High Plains region of Northwest Texas. The stripper
sold for $1,140; unfortunately the company went out of business.
Manufacture was later resumed by C. T. Boone at Lubbock.
Deere sold few strippers from 1932 to 1943 but was able to
capitalize on its previous development work and was soon producing
hundreds for an expanding market. During the two year period from
1946 to 1948, Deere manufactured approximately 4,000 strippers,
(Figures 11 and 12)
Strippers continued to grow in popularity as hand labor became
more expensive and less available. Gins in areas where stripper use
was widespread, installed special cleaning and extracting equipment
and penalties for stripped cotton became a thing of the past.
Oklahoma Experiment Station, Stillwater, developed stripper
rolls made of nylon bristles to form a brush type stripping unit.
Many considered this 1949 innovation new, but alas it was merely
the revival of the long forgotten inspiration of Benjamin Savage,
Scotland Neck, North Carolina. His patent, number 300,739, June 17,
1884, stated the brushes could be made from wire, hair, steel or
whalebone, 'or a combination of all three.' He also claimed
the machine could be adapted for harvesting cotton, peas, beans and
other crops. A Lubbock inventor, Floyd R. Friend, also secured a
patent for a stripper equipped with two brush rolls, October 15,
1929. Brush rolls of nylon were found superior to steel rolls in
tests; the brush rolls were virtually free of choking problems
associated with steel rolls.
Strangely, the brush type stripper did not sell well initially.
Ford Motor Company manufactured approximately 1,200 units in 1953.
Designed to mount on Ford's small row crop tractor, farmer
acceptance was poor and Ford dropped the stripper. Brush rolls were
later incorporated in stripper models manufactured by Hesston
Corporation, Hesston, Kansas with success. They have subsequently
been added to every major cotton machinery producers line of
strippers as farmers have come to appreciate their advantages.
Beginning in 1954, researchers at the Lubbock Experiment Station
drill-planted cotton in narrow seven to ten inch rows under
irrigation to test yield response. The short, high fruiting plants
obtained with this method were ideal for machine stripping, except
no machine then existed to handle such narrow rows. Weed control
remained a problem until 1962 when successful results were obtained
with one application of a pre-emergence chemical. With effective
weed control possible ultra-high plant populations -200,000 plants
per acre and more -were tested.
An experimental finger-type stripper was designed and fabricated
which efficiently harvested test plot broadcast and narrow row
cotton. Large-scale cultivation of this type of cotton required
radical modification of current harvesting machines. A
self-propelled cotton picker chassis (tractor and basket with
picking units removed) served as the base unit for this 1963
innovation. The finger principle of stripper harvesting was
incorporated into the machine. Resembling the header platform of a
combine, the new stripper utilized a pneumatic lint delivery system
to the basket. In comparisons with other current harvesting
machines, the hybrid harvester surprised many who doubted its
Ellis engines I recently restored and own. The Ellis engines
were built by Ellis Engine Company of Detroit, Michigan. The 1916
Detroit City Directory indicates a listing for the Ellis Engine
Company. After the 1916 entry, it is not listed, so I must assume
my engines were built in 1916 or before.
The Ellis engine on the left is a 3-6 H. P., serial number 770.
The Ellis engine in the center is a very rare and interesting 12
H.P., two cylinder opposed, serial number A101. The Ellis engine on
the right is a 1-3 H.P., serial number 1169. These represent the
basic line of the Ellis engines.
It was not until the harvest year of 1970 that the experimental
head developed by Elmer Hudspeth Jr. and others at the Lubbock
Station was introduced commercially. Allis-Chalmers modified the
original prototype to fit their 760-XTB self-propelled stripper,
(Figure 13). John Deere has since introduced a model of their own
for the Model 482 self-propelled stripper. Garland Steel Company,
Phoenix, Arizona also markets a version of the broadcast and narrow
row head which they install on converted cotton pickers.
Allis-Chalmers, a late starter in stripper development,
correctly predicted future trends in cotton stripper development
when they introduced the first self-propelled stripper in 1966. Two
models, one with bur extractor and cleaner, and the other without
were marketed as the 707 series. By 1969, farmer demand for field
cleaning and extracting had grown so great that the model without
bur extractor and cleaner was dropped.
From the first patent secured by Rembert and Prescott in 1850 on
a cotton picker to the recent introduction of broadcast and narrow
heads by Allis-Chalmers, men have sought improved techniques for a
crop that stubbornly resisted change. It is curious to reflect that
the cotton stripper designs which eventually proved commercially
successful in the twentieth century had all been variously
developed, patented and discarded in the nineteenth. As long as
hand labor remained plentiful, adoption of harvest machinery was