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Threshing Grain, ca. 1900-1910

Threshing Grain, ca. 1900-1910.

A team of threshers using steam-powered threshing machines on harvested grain. Machinery took away the necessity of a large team of threshers as the automation took care of the process in a smaller amount of time.

Seymour, Sabin, & Co. - View to North from Center Ave. and Red River, ca. 1875-1885.

Seymour, Sabin, & Co. - View to North from Center Ave. and Red River, ca. 1875-1885.

Dealt agricultural implements in the Clay County area, and introduced the threshing machine "Moorhead Chief" which was central to their future success.

Impressive mechanical innovations characterized the industrial focus toward consistent development and improvement of machinery, and farmers utilized these new steam-powered threshers, hay loaders, and, eventually, gas engine tractors(1). The mechanical manufacturing field included companies such as the Seymour, Sabin, & Co. which manufactured and shipped much of the machinery around the Red River Valley area and distributed the mechanical thresher known as the “Moorhead Chief.” Population and demand in the national market grew in tandem, and the larger demand in terms of agricultural production resulted in efforts shifting toward intense production(2).

Bonanza farms utilized the newest machinery in large quantities on their fields to grow wheat and other crops on a grand scale and acted as Minnesota’s first “factory” farms. These represented the institution of the Industrial Era of large-scale, low-cost production which concluded in a larger net profit as producers needed less human and animal power for labor. Railroad investors acquired land as collateral for bonds in the Red River Valley during an 1873 crash faced by rail lines, and many of these acres developed into bonanza farms. Investors developed these lands to prove their capability for agriculture and generate business for the railroad with encouraged settlement. Most bonanzas were located on the western side of the Red River Valley as Minnesota’s side tended to flood too often, but some developed in Minnesota after James J. Hill’s St. Vincent Extension line passed through in 1878. Although short-lived, lasting from about 1875 to the Panic of 1893 which devastated bonanza farmers over-expanding on borrowed capital, these farms introduced the profitability of machinery for agricultural yield and monetary profit(3).

Farming Operations with Animals, ca. 1900-1915

Farming Operations with Animals, ca. 1900-1915.

A majority of farms before the adoption of steam-powered and gasoline-powered machinery used animals for farming operations.

Threshing Grain, ca. 1900-1910

Threshing Grain, ca. 1900-1910.

With the adoption of steam-powered threshers and newer machinery, agricultural production and storage changed greatly. Less beasts of burden and humans were required for the harvest and buildings, such as the silo pictured above, were constructed out of sturdier material such as steel.

Along with intense production, these innovations required less labor by both man and animal. Previously farming processes took a team of men and animal-powered farming equipment and transportation for harvest and threshing, but new innovations changed the process and make-up of farm labor. Not only were the teams changed by mechanical development, the structure of buildings associated with agricultural production modified to accomodate the new technology. Some examples include sheds built larger to house machinery as opposed to beasts of burden and silos made of steel and built taller for mechanical elevators(4). Nature of the field and buildings changed once more with the introduction of gasoline tractors in the 1910s, as these new machines worked faster, never grew tired, and required no food--also leading to fields once used for hay and oats being utilized for other crops(5).


1. Merrill E. Jarchow, The Earth Brought Forth: A History of Minnesota Agriculture to 1885, (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1949), 120, 162.

2. Susan Granger and Scott Kelly, Historic Context Study of Minnesota Farms, 1820-1960, Vol 1 (Minnesota: Gemini Research, June 2005), 3.44.

3. Hiram Drache, The Day of the Bonanza: The History of Bonanza Farming in the Red River Valley of the North, (Minnesota: Hobar Publications, 1964), vii.

Granger and Kelly, Historic Context Study of Minnesota Farms, 3.18-3.19.

4. Granger and Kelly, Historic Context Study of Minnesota Farms5.5.

5. Rhoda R. Gilman, Northern Lights: The Story of Minnesota’s Past, (Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1990), 160.