History Reel Lawn Mower
History & Preservation Project @ North Farms

What exactly is a reel lawn mower? The reel or cylinder mower, as it is called in England, shears grass in the same way a pair of scissors work. The cutting blades are riveted or welded to a series of spiders which are located on a central shaft. As the shaft turns the blades come in contact with the non moving bed knife to cut the blades of grass.

It does not chew it the way sheep do; it does not rip it the way a scythe does; and it does not shatter it the way a rotary mower does.

With the invention of the reel lawn mower instead of spending many hours using a scythe, sickle, or shears to get an unevenly cut lawn one could now simply and comfortably push a reel lawn mower.

The entry of the horse, wearing oversize leather booties to prevent lawn damage, drawing a very wide reel mower allowed vast estate lawns and playing fields to be more quickly and cheaply cut. The sheep were even displaced from the job of keeping the golf course fairway short.

With the arrival of the automobile mower, power and speed had arrived on the lawn. Big and expensive soon became small and inexpensive. Thus even larger areas of grass could be maintained at a shorter height.

Even though its popularity dropped precipitously after the Second World War, the reel lawn mower has been here all along. Several hundred thousand hand or push mowers are currently being made with the number increasing yearly as more home owners seek to return to a quieter method of cutting the grass on the smaller plots of urban America.

There has yet to be invented a more effective system of cutting grass especially at such short heights as those found on a golf course. Hydraulics and electronics are state of the grass cutting art, but the reel and bed knife are unchanged for 170 years.

ORIGIN: The first patent for a "Machine for mowing lawns, etc." was granted to Edwin Beard Budding (1795-1846) from Stroud, Gloucestershire, England, on August 31, 1830. Edwin Budding entered into an agreement with John Ferrabee owner of Phoenix Foundry at Thrupp Mill, Stroud, to produce the mower.

The first non human powered reel lawn mower was built for William Fullerton Lindsey Carnegie of Kimblethmont Estate, Boysack, Scotland, by Alexander Shanks of nearby Arbroath. In 1841 Shanks built a 27" pony drawn reel lawn mower, and by 1842 they had registered a 42" horse drawn mower.

The first motor mower was built by James Sumner of Leyden, Lancaster, England. This two ton steam powered giant cut a 40" swath. In 1902 Ransomes produced the first commercially available mower powered by an internal combustion gasoline engine.

English manufactured reel lawn mowers were imported for many years before the first United States patent for a reel lawn mower was granted to Amariah Hills on January 12, 1868. However, reel lawn mowers were produced domestically at least by 1856.