the mid-1800's, wheat was cut by hand with scythes or
sickles, sharp knife-like tools. Then, in 1831, Cyrus
McCormick revolutionized wheat harvest with the invention
of the first mechanical reaper. The mechanical reaper
used a knife with a saw-toothed edge to cut the wheat
plants just like a saw could cut wood. It was pulled by
The wheat heads were still attached to the wheat stalks.
The wheat would be bundled into wheat shocks or piled
into stacks until a threshing machine was available. The
threshing machine and its crew would travel from farm
to farm to thresh the wheat (separate and remove the wheat
kernels from the rest of the plants). The first self-propelled
threshing machines had steam or gas engines and it took
25-30 men to thresh the wheat.
Today, a machine cuts the heads off the wheat plants,
beats the wheat kernels out of the heads, cleans the grain,
and stores the grain in a grain tank. The machine that
does all this while moving through a field of wheat is
called a combine. The combine got its name because it
combined the two basic jobs of cutting and threshing wheat.
Early combines were pulled by as many as 32 horses or
mules. Later, tractors replaced the horses and mules.
Then, combines became self-propelled machines as they
By hand, farmers could cut only 2 acres of wheat a day.
With Cyrus McCormick's invention of the reaper, farmers
could cut 8 acres a day. Today's modern combines can harvest
1,000 bushels of wheat an hour, cutting an acre of wheat
in 6 minutes or less. In other words, today's combines
can cut enough wheat to make 73,000 loaves of white bread
a ride inside the cab of John
Detmer's combine as he cuts wheat on one of his fields
in Great Bend, Kansas.