History of Cotton Harvesting Machine

Cotton plays significant role in human social life, however cotton can be a very labor intensive crop, which includes the planting and harvesting process. After wheat and crop combines have developed, the demands for cotton picker increased.


Cotton Characteristics Make it Hard to Harvest
Cotton is an extremely labor intensive crop, and this can be one reason that slavery existed. Even within the same field, cotton bolls on the plants would become ready for harvesting at different rate. The mature bolls could not leave on the plants until all have matured because the mature cotton quality would deteriorate if bolls opened, so pickers need to harvest ripe cotton bolls and at the same time leave unripe cottons on the plant. So traditionally, cotton was picked by hand, pickers have to come back through three or four times each harvest period.
Early Cotton Harvesting Machine
In 1850 the first cotton harvesting machine was patented. Then over the next century over 1800 patents were issued for cotton harvesting schemes. Some early prototypes tried to harvest with pneumatic mechanisms, some tried to adopt threshing machine, others tried static electricity or mechanical fingers. However these prototypes make second passing through the field impossible for the damaging to cotton.


Function of Spindle Mechanism
The most successful prototype was spindle mechanism. This machine can pass through cotton over a series of spindles which were turning at high speed. Open boll would wrap around the spindle when passing. Then spindle would move around to a doffer where the spindle would rotate the opposite direction and the doffer would pull the fibers off to be cleaned and transported to a hopper. But spindle could not capture enough fibers.
Successful Cotton Harvester Invented by International Harvester
Engineer John D. Rust remembered that when he was a kid, dew made cotton stick to his fingers, and his grandmother wetted the spindle on the spinning wheel to let cotton adhere. Then he created a machine that add water to spindles. This method was adopted by International Harvester and invented a successful harvester in 1942. However for the restriction on steel, cotton combine could not got quantity production until 1948. By then, they have made updated model.
High Efficiency
At that time, hybrid varieties which produce bolls that higher off the ground and varieties that ripened uniformly were developed, together with the appearance of herbicides make cotton picking greatly labor saving. For example, cotton picking from 125 hours per acre reduced to 25.