The History Of The Plow

Did you know that the plow has been used for centuries to help farmers till their soil? The plow is an agricultural tool that is used to break up and turn over the top layer of soil. A plow is a simple tool but it has had a profound impact on the world. It is one of the most ancient tools known to man and its use can be traced back hundreds, even thousands, of years.

The plow is one of the most important inventions in history. It played a key role in the Agricultural Revolution and allowed humanity to settle down and build civilizations. It continues to be an important tool today. Its simple design has allowed it to remain a staple in agriculture for generations, and it continues to play a vital role in modern farming practices and helping us to maintain our lawns and gardens.

But how did the plow come to be? And how did this humble tool become so important? In this blog post, we will take a look at the history of the plow and how it has evolved over time. We will also discuss some of the benefits that come with using a plow to farm your land. So, keep reading to learn more about the history of the plow and how this fascinating invention has helped shape our agricultural landscape.

What Is a Plow?

First off, let’s define exactly what a plow is. A plow, which may also be known as a plough, is an agricultural tool that is used to break up and turn over soil in preparation for planting crops, vegetation, or sowing seeds. Plowing is the most basic form of agriculture, and its main goal is to turn over the topsoil, bringing new nutrients to the surface while burying plant and food remains to decay.

Soil plowing and tilling even out the top 12 – 25 centimeters (5 – 10 in) of soil, where most plant-feeder roots develop. A plow may have a wooden, iron, or steel frame with a blade attached to slice through and loosen and aerate the dirt. The trenches made by a plow are known as furrows.

Early Plows

Farming is one of, if not the oldest profession in the entire world. Because of this, there are many types of plow that have been in use for hundreds or thousands of years.

Plows were originally driven by humans, but the use of farm animals was far more effective. Oxen were the first working animals, but eventually horses and mules were employed in many places later on.

Many of the first plows found to be used in the United States were little more than a crooked stick with an iron point attached that merely scratched the ground. Early attempts at improvement were mostly heavy sections of rough wood crudely cut into form with a wrought-iron point and loosely attached. Plows could barely turn a furrow in soft ground unless the oxen or horses were very strong, and friction was such an issue that three men and many animals were frequently required to turn a furrow when the ground was firm.

Types of Plows

Here are a few of the most common types of plows. Some were used by farmers and gardeners many years ago, and some have just been invented in the last century.

Garden Hoe

The earliest farmers used basic hand-held digging sticks and garden hoes to turn soil. They were employed in regions where the soil was very productive, such as along the Nile’s banks, to make furrows in which to sow seeds. Hoe-farming is a tillage technique used in tropical or sub-tropical areas with rocky soils, steep slope gradients, main root crops, and big grain production at distant distances, though, while hoe-agriculture is most suited to these regions, it has been employed throughout the world.

Scratch Plow

The first plow was the simple scratch plow, or “Ard,” which consisted of a frame with a vertical wooden stick that was dragged through the dirt (still utilized in parts of the world). It is used to dig up a strip of ground immediately adjacent to the plowed road, allowing it to be planted. This was the first plow that was pulled by oxen, and it was likely developed around any time and place that oxen were domesticated.

Crooked Plow

The Greeks are credited with developing the first significant improvement in plow design with the crooked plow, which angled the cutting surface forward. The cutting surface was frequently covered at first with bronze and then later on with iron.

Moldboard Plow

Flipping the top layer of soil over to bring the nutrients to the top of the land helped to grow more crops in less-fertile places. The Moldboard Plow, also called the Turn Plow and Frame Plow, which was invented in the 18th century, was a significant step forward in terms of technology.

A coulter was used to cut vertically into the ground just ahead of the plowshare, with a wedge-shaped cutting edge at the bottom front of the mold board.

The coulter cuts into the soil when dragged through a field, and the share cuts from one furrow to the next in a horizontal line. As the share moves ahead, it lifts and rolls over a rectangular strip of topsoil cut by the plow as it goes. This is lifted by the mold board and placed upside down in the previous furrow.

The moldboard plow sped up the time it took to prepare a field, allowing farmers to cultivate a larger area of land. Furthermore, the soil’s pattern of low and high ridges creates water channels, allowing it to drain, so areas that had a lot of snow in the winter could start planting crops earlier and not worry about snow runoff.

Heavier Moldboard Plows

The depth of cut in the original moldboard plow was limited by pushing against the furrow runner, which restricted the weight of the plow to what a plowman could easily carry. The addition of wheels to a plow’s runner allowed the plow’s weight to rise, facilitating the use of a larger moldboard faced in metal. The development of heavier plows in the Middle Ages resulted in greater food production and, eventually, a significant population boost that began around 1000 C.E.

The Romans developed a heavy, wheeled moldboard plow sometime between the third and fourth centuries AD, according to archaeological finds in Roman Britain among others. The heavy plow appears to have been adopted more readily in Europe when the three-field system was established during the later 8th and early 9th centuries, resulting in greater agricultural production per unit of land in northern Europe, as well as larger crop fields.

Turn-Wrest Plow

For a thousand years, the fundamental moldboard plow with coulter, plowshare, and moldboard was the primary method of plowing. The first moldboard plows simply turned the dirt in one direction (usually to the right), as determined by the form of the mold board; thus, a field had to be tilled in long strips or lands. The long sides and little widths were generally plowed clockwise, then dragged over the short areas without being plowed.

The length of a strip was restricted by the distance oxen (later horses) could work without stopping. This work created the distance for furlong, which was 1/8 mile, or 220 yards. A chain was then 1/10 of a furlong, or 22 yards, and an acre – the area one person and one ox can plow in a single day – was one furlong in length and one chain in width (220 yards X 22 yards).

The invention of the turn-wrest plow allowed for a farmer to plow on either side, left or right. The moldboard is detachable, flipping to the right for one furrow before moving to the other side of the plow to flip to the left. This method may be used to plow adjacent furrows in opposing directions, allowing plowing to continue uninterruptedly along the field and thus avoiding the ridge and furrow topography.

Reversible Plow

The reversible (or roll-over) plow has two back-to-back moldboard plows, one turning right, the other left. One works the earth while the other is carried in the air upside-down. At the end of each row, the paired boards are reversed so that they may be utilized along the next furrow, cultivating the land in the same direction. They include right and left-handed mold boards, allowing them to work in the same row up and down.

Riding And Multiple-Furrow Plows

The early plows used for multiple thousands of years were walking plows controlled by the plowman grasping handles on each side of the implement. When steel plows were invented, the steel was far simpler to pull through the dirt, and because the blade could easily cut through roots or clods, the continual adjustments to react to them was no longer required. Therefore, it was not long after that the first riding plows appeared.

On these, wheels kept the plow at an adjustable height above the ground, while the plowman sat on a seat where he would have previously walked. The draft team was now in control, with knobs allowing for precise adjustments. This resulted very quickly in plows equipped with numerous moldboards, which greatly boosted plowing effectiveness because they could plow multiple furrows at one time.

Balance Plow

From around 1850, the invention of the mobile steam engine permitted steam power to be utilized in plowing. In Europe, however, soil conditions were frequently unsuitable for the support of a traction engine.

Instead, wheeled counterbalanced plows, often known as balance plows, were drawn by cables across the fields by pairs of plowing engines on opposite field edges or a single engine drawing straight towards it and away via a pulley at the other.

The two sets of facing plows on the balance plow were adjusted so that when one was down, the other was up in the air. When pulled in one direction, the trailing plows were lowered to the ground by tension on the cable. When the plow reached the field’s border, its opposite engine pulled the opposing line and tilted (balanced) it, putting the opposite set of shares into the ground.

As with the turn-wrest and reversible plows, these plows were both left-handed and right-handed, allowing for continuous plowing throughout the day.

Stump-Jump Plow

The stump-jump plow, an invention from Australia in the 1870s, is used to break up new farming ground that is difficult to clear of tree stumps and stones. It hols the plowshare in its position via a moveable weight. When a tree stump or rock is discovered, the plowshare is lifted clear of the obstruction to avoid injuring its harness or connection. When weight is put back onto the ground, plowing can be continued.

Modern plows

Modern plows are typically tractor-mounted, and they often have as little as two all the way up to seven moldboards. The tractor’s hydraulic systems are used to raise and reverse the implement, as well as vary furrow width and depth. The plowman must still manually set the drafting connection from the tractor, ensuring that the plow maintains the proper angle and depth in the soil, though tractors can automatically adjust these parameters.

Specialized Plows

Here are a few plows that do specific tasks in a garden or farmland.

Chisel Plow

A chisel plow is a popular deep-tillage implement that causes little soil disturbance. The objective of it is to aerate and loosen the soil and leave crop residue on top. This plow can be used to break up plow-pan and hardpan and minimize soil compaction. Unlike many other plows, the chisel will not invert or turn the earth.

This function has made it an essential component in no-till and low-till farming methods that seek to maximize the erosion-preventing benefits of keeping organic matter and crop residues on the soil surface all year. As a result, the chisel plow is more sustainable than other plows like the moldboard plow.

Chisel plows are generally seen as similar to cultivators, but their purposes are different. Cultivator teeth operate near the surface, typically for weed control, whereas chisel plows operate deep below the soil; as a result, cultivation requires significantly less power per shank than does chisel plowing.

Ridging Plow

A ridging plow is used for crops like potatoes or scallions grown in ridges of dirt, using a method known as hilling. A ridging plow has two back-to-back mold boards that create a deep furrow with steep ridges on each pass. The same implement may be utilized to split the ridges and harvest the crops.

Mole Plow

The mole plow, unlike other plows, does not require trenches or breaks up deep impermeable soil layers that block it. It’s a big machine with a torpedo or wedge-shaped tip and a narrow blade that connects it to the body. When dragged across ground, it creates a channel that serves as a drain. Modern mole plows may also embed a flexible perforated plastic drain pipe as they go, making the drainage more permanent – or they might be used to lay water supply pipes or other installations. Similar machines, often known as pipe-laying and cable-laying plows, are utilized under the sea to lay cable and for preparing the ground for side-scan sonar in oil exploration.

Switch Plow

The switch plow has a pivoting point on both ends, allowing the plowing direction to be changed by turning the bar around its pivot point. It is most effective in previously worked soils, as the plowshares are intended more to turn over the soil than to do deep tilling. The operator raises the bar (and plowshares) to turn the soil to the other side of the direction of travel at the end of each row. Switch plows are generally lighter than roll-over plows, as they need less power to operate.

Who Invented The Plow?

The plow is one of the oldest tools in history, like a spear or a hammer, so no one technically can be credited with “inventing” it. It is likely that many different cultures invented their own method and tools for plowing, with no knowledge of others.

The development of the plow, however, can be attributed to a number of individuals, each with their own distinctive role in the tool’s improvement.

Charles Newbold and David Peacock

Charles Newbold of Burlington County, New Jersey was the first genuine recognized creator of a specific practical plow. He received a patent for a cast-iron plow in June of 1797. However, farmers in the United States were wary of it. They thought it “poisoned the soil” and encouraged weeds to flourish.

In 1807, David Peacock also got a plow patent and subsequently obtained two more. Newbold sued Peacock for patent infringement, winning damages in the process. It was the first lawsuit to win damages for an alleged plow patent violation.

Thomas Jefferson

Although he didn’t make it himself, Thomas Jefferson devised a sophisticated moldboard plan. He was, however, too preoccupied with other things to continue developing agricultural tools, and he never tried to copyright his machine.

Joseph Foljambe

Joseph Foljambe in 1730 created the Rotherham plow in Rotherham, England. The Rotherham Plow (or Rotherham swing) was much lighter than the conventional heavy plow because it consisted only of the coulter, moldboard, and handles. It was a mega-hit in England, and may have been the first plow to be mass produced in a factory and commercially successful throughout the country.

Jethro Wood

Jethro Wood, a blacksmith from Scipio, New York, created another plow in the early 1800s. He secured two patents, one in 1814 and the other in 1819. His plow was composed of three pieces, allowing for the exchange of a broken part without having to buy a new plow.

The idea of standardization was a significant step forward. Farmers who had formerly been prejudiced against plows were now eager to acquire them.

John Deere

The world’s first self-polishing cast-steel plow was developed and marketed by John Deere in 1837. These huge plows, which could cut through the hard American prairie soil were dubbed “grasshopper plows.”

William Parlin

Around 1842, William Parlin of Canton, Illinois began to create plows. He traveled across the United States by wagon and sold them.

John Lane and James Oliver

In 1868, John Lane conceived the world’s first “soft-center” steel plow. To minimize breakage, the abrasive surface of the tool was backed by softer, more durable metal.

In 1851, James Oliver—a Scottish immigrant who had moved to Indiana and become a farmer—received a patent for the “chilled plow.” The wearing surfaces of the casting were cooled faster than those of the back due to an ingenious technique. The plow’s body was fashioned of hard iron, while the pieces that came into direct contact with the soil had a glassy, rock-like surface. The firm now known as Oliver Chilled Plow Works was founded by Oliver later.

Modern Advances

There have been many steps forward when it comes to plow designs. The conventional, right-handed plow was supplanted by the reversible plow because of its ease of operation and capability to produce level farmland. Additionally, putting two plows together allowed for more work to be done with the same amount of manpower or animal-power as before. The sulky plow, which allowed the driver to ride rather than walk, was another improvement.

The next advance was to replace draft animals with traction engines. In 1921, farm tractors were able to perform the task more effectively and haul heavier plows—50 horsepower engines could lift 16 plows, harrows, and a grain drill all at once.

Today, plows are utilized considerably less than they were in the past. This is largely owing to the popularity of minimum tillage systems intended to minimize soil erosion and retain moisture, and we just don’t need plows as much anymore.

Reversing Mechanism

The vast majority of all modern reversible plows turn the plow frame over at the headlands, from left to right and vice versa, via hydraulic mechanisms. Hydraulic change-over valves for automatic cylinder stroke direction may be found on some. Hydraulic reversal is aided by hydraulic main frame alignment, which allows the plow frame to swing in line with the tractor so that the rear plow wheel does not strike the ground.

Wheel Settings

The majority of modern tractors have four-wheel drive and larger wheel components with inside wheel settings up to 72 inches (1.83m). This is done to transmit the high horse power to the field while maintaining tractor balance and traction by evenly distributing weight on each wheel.

Furrow Width Adjustments

The width of a furrow has gradually expanded over thousands of years, from as little as 6 inches to up to 20 inches wide. Horses’ feet are approximately 7 inches wide, thus after germination the plants would be in rows 7 inches apart, big enough for a horse’s hoof to pass between while walking through the cultivated field.

Early tractors with reversible plows had the furrow width fixed at 12 or 14 inches, and plows are now able to operate on furrows that are up to 20 inches wide due to the technological changes to the moldboard, which allowed for broader furrows and faster plowing speeds.

Frame Design

A plow frame must bear a lot of twisting strain, especially while being transported, therefore it must be flexible to absorb the forces and strains while remaining aligned.

Rectangular or rail line-shaped solid metal bars were used to make old-fashioned reversible plows. Modern plow frames are made of a one-piece box section that has been heat treated for strength and to assist keep the weight down.

Plow Protection

Modern plows are longer and heavier than previous ones, with a greater focus on strength rather than agility. They do not ‘jump’ over obstacles as they used to. They have shear bolts or auto-reset systems that protect them from stumps and rocks in the farm soil.

The ability of modern steels and heat treatments to resist wear and operate under greater working conditions and faster operating speeds without breaking is also essential. Early “chilled” cast iron items would simply break.

Summing Up

The plow has come a long way since its early designs. With new innovations and advances, the plow is now an essential tool for many farmers, and makes work and growing crops many times easier. It’s interesting to think about who invented the plow and how it has evolved over time.

We’ve looked at some of the different types of plows and how they have evolved over the years. Today’s farmers use a variety of different plows to meet their specific needs, and advancements in technology continue to improve their efficiency. Who knows where it will go from here! As with any invention, there are always advancements to be made and new ideas to explore.

If you’re curious to learn more about the history of the plow, drop us a message! We hope this article was interesting and helped you learn a bit more about plowing, farming practices, and the boundless evolution of technology and human creativity.