The Rotary Power Mower And Its Inventor: Leonard B. Goodall

| December/January 1993

Reprinted with permission from, Missouri Historical Review, April 1992, The State Historical Society of Missouri, 1020 Lowry Street Columbia, Missouri 65201

Consumers Union celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 1986 by publishing a special commemorative book, I'll Buy That, in which it identified fifty twentieth-century inventions that had 'revolutionized the lives of consumers.'1 One of the fifty, the rotary power lawn mower, originated in the basement of a house on East Market Street in Warrensburg, Missouri, where Leonard B. Goodall lived and developed the mower. His work represents the story of an individual who saw a need and, with the spirit of an entrepreneur, set out to meet it.

Immediately after World War II, an important part of the American Dream included owning a home with a yard and, perhaps, even a white picket fence. Just as air-conditioning allowed people to live comfortably in warm climates. Goodall's mower enabled individuals to maintain relatively large lawns in a neat and attractive fashion.

Prior to the invention of the rotary mower, mowers were of the reel type. They could not cut high grass, which made it difficult for individuals to push them long enough to mow a large yard. As long as most people lived in cities or on farms, this presented no problem. City dwellers had either no yards or only small ones, and farm animals served as 'mowers' for rural inhabitants. The post-World War II suburbanization movement created a great need for a mower that could be used on large lawns, and Goodall's rotary power mower responded to that need.

Born to farmers in Delphos, Kansas, on November 17, 1895, Leonard B. Goodall grew up in the rural and small-town atmosphere of central Kansas. Although he completed only eight grades, he had a curious mind about mechanical mattersa curiosity that remained with him throughout his life and dominated his professional activities and work habits.

As a teenager, Goodall attempted to repair a tractor with open drive while the engine ran. The vibration caused the tractor to jump into gear. His left leg caught in the gears, necessitating its amputation. This tragedy later had a dramatic impact on his life. The handicap and his resulting inability to push a reel-type mower caused him to seek another approach to lawn mowing.

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I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Goodall back in either 1968. I had a small pantograph engraver machine for sale in the Kansas City Star newspaper. Two old fellows came to my house in Lenexa Kansas to buy it. One of them introduced himself as Leonard Goodall. I told him that my father used to have a lawnmower called a Goodall. He said "That's me"! The man that was with him told me he was a horological machinist (clock maker) and they were interested in my pantograph for making clock faces. They bought the machine for $85.00 and away they went. Two nice friendly old gents. I was 22 years old at the time.


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