Embracing Technological Change
Farming in the nineteenth century required adaptation to changing land, technology, and economic demands. When the first farmers came to Wayne County, they still cut wheat with a sickle and fields were sowed by hand or with a wooden plow.1 Manual labor was essential for any farming family with small children or large holdings. Many families still hired clerks and artisans from nearby villages, like Wooster, or migratory workers for the harvest season to provide enough food for their families.2
Some of the most important inventions in farming technology, such as the cradle (pictured), were simple compared to advanced later machinery. Described as "a scythe with a framework of long wooden fingers to keep the severed stalks from falling to the stubble," the cradle was essentially the reaping scythe with a net attached to catch the grains cut by the sickle.3 This is not to undermine the efficiency of the cradle; after it's implementation, a farmer could easily cut three acres of land a day, as opposed to one. The threshing machine, a simple horse-power, hand-fed machine used to separate the stalks and husks of grain, was first introduced to Wayne County in 1827, and quickly made an impact on the community's views toward farming machinery.4
One of the most important farming inventions of the nineteenth century was the steel plow, famously patented by John Deere in Illinois in 1837.5 In Wayne County, however, it is likely that after residents upgraded to cast-iron plows, they had little incentive to upgrade again to John Deere’s more costly steel plow, especially since there was a cast-iron manufacturing firm in nearby Canton. Other mechanical inventions found their way to Ohio in the mid-nineteenth century including the reaper (patented by Hussley in 1837, but not widely used until Cyrus McCormick patented his version in 1846) and later the mower (the Ketchum model appeared in Ohio in 1848). By 1857, there was such a shortage of willing laborers that even small farmers in Wayne County had no choice but to start relying more on machinery.6
As soil became worn due to overcultivation, farmers were began to rely on research from agriculture colleges to help them face these difficulties. When the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center moved to Wooster in 1892, farmers benefitted from being close to this hub of research that would help them modernize. Even though farmers in Wayne County often had no choice but to adapt, they successfully evolved and the community continued to thrive.
1 Martin Welker, Farm Life in Central Ohio Sixty Years Ago (Wooster, OH: Clapper’s Print, 1892), 19.
2 Ben Douglass, History of Wayne County, 194.
3 Robert Jones, History of Agriculture in Ohio to 1880 (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1983), 263.
4 George Dustmas, “A Century of Agricultural Progress in Wayne County,” Wooster Daily Record, September 6, 1949; Robert Leslie Jones, History of Agriculture in Ohio to 1880 (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 1983), 270.
5 Paul Conkin, A Revolution Down on the Farm, the Transformation of American Agriculture (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2008), 3.
6 Jones, Agriculture in Ohio, 265.