The History of Cotton Strippers


| November/December 1974



Hughes patent

1. Figure 1: The Hughes patent: combs stripped cotton bolls back into the wagon in back of the stripping unit. [Author's collection]

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 avoided?

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 the state.

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 woods.

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 at once.'