Obed Hussey, Who, of All Inventors, Made Bread Cheap

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Hussey's American Reaper

Hussey’s American Reaper

Obed Hussey


Being a true record of his life and struggles to introduce his greatest invention, the reaper, and its success, as gathered from pamphlets published heretofore by some of his friends and associates, and reprinted in this volume, together with some additional facts and testimonials from other sources.





Every step in the progress of modern achievement has been met with strong resistance and hostile contest. There is in business an actual firing line where continuous conflict wages, and so fierce does the struggle become that it requires a certain class of men possessing qualities, not only of energy and perseverance, but of tenacity and combativeness, aggressive and determined to fight to the last ditch for commercial supremacy. Such men do not always rely upon the merits of their cause, nor do they stop to question the justice or injustice of their methods. They have but one goal, commercial supremacy, and every effort is bent and every man and method utilized to attain that end.

Men of inventive genius are rarely of that type. They are more often unassuming and averse to anything like a personal combat. Such a man was Obed Hussey, inventor of the reaper. Honest and conscientious, enured to hard and unremitting toil, with the inspiration of a new idea for the benefit of mankind burning in his brain, he applied himself in the face of immense difficulties to the production and perfection of the great gift which he gave to the world. He was a man at once so humble and so broad in his kindness, so loyal to his Quaker ideals of righteousness and justice, that he offered no protests, or arguments against his rivals and opponents other than the superiority of his own machine. Only his great genius which produced the superior machine (a fact which no one could possibly contradict) could have saved him from the fierce opposition of his more powerful rivals. One has only to read from some of his own letters reproduced in this narrative, to witness the fairness of his attitude, or to gain a knowledge of his scruples.

Yet it was just this which has operated to deprive Obed Hussey of his well deserved fame as inventor of the reaper. Moreover, a great industry, fostered by his opponents in the patent controversy, has grown up, the basis and life of which is Obed Hussey’s invention of the reaper. It would seem that the vast fortunes made from this industry should be ample reward for those who are receiving the benefits of a man’s life work without whose genius it would never have been.

In 1897 there was published in Chicago a booklet entitled “A Brief Narrative of the Invention of Reaping Machines,” a large part of which is reproduced in this book. The pamphlets of which the narrative was a republication were from the pen of Edward Stabler, an able man and a mechanic of great skill and ability, a close friend of Mr. Hussey and one familiar with his reaper and with all the facts which he set forth in these articles. Such other facts and information as are published herein were furnished by Martha Hussey, daughter of Mr. Hussey, now living and by my uncle, Hon. Alexander B. Lamberton, who married Mr. Hussey’s widow. Mr. Lamberton is a man of high standing, having for many years taken an active part in the affairs of Rochester. He was President of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce, 1901-1904 (three successive terms), and has been President of the Rochester Park Board for the past eleven years. He also won national fame as a hunter and naturalist and was President of the National Association for the Protection of Fish and Game. His relation to the Hussey family has made him conversant with the whole history of the invention of the reaper and of Mr. Hussey’s early struggles.

The facts as set forth in this volume are well known to the reaper men of the United States, men high up in the industry. Had Mr. Hussey lived, he would have been able to establish his claim to the invention of the reaper beyond the shadow of a doubt. This humble man, who, against tremendous odds and powerful opposition, proved his contentions before Congress and the United States Patent Office could certainly have won deserved fame with the public.

His tragic death, which came just at the time when his Congressional victory was certain and the future of his reaper seemed bright with promise, occurred while he was en route from Boston to Portland, Maine, on August 4, 1860. In those days there was often no water in the cars. The train had stopped at a station when a little child asked for a drink of water and Mr. Hussey stepped out to get it for her. On his return, as he attempted to re-enter, the cars started; he was thrown beneath the wheels and instantly killed. The last act of his life was one of kindness and compassion.

Obed Hussey is dead, but his machine still lives, an article of measureless value to the great world of agriculture. His life was one of long suffering and faithful service and he justly deserves the proper credit and honor for his great invention. To Obed Hussey belongs the fame of Inventor of the Reaper as these pages will show, to which purpose these facts are published by those who knew him and his works, and these facts, like his works, stand squarely on their own merits.

Rochester, N. Y., April 21, 1912.

Obed Hussey, Inventor of the Reaper

Obed Hussey, Inventor of the Reaper


A Natural Inventor

Obed Hussey was of Quaker stock, born in Maine in 1792 and early removed to Nantucket, Mass. When young, like all Nantucket boys, he had a desire to go to sea, and made one or two whaling voyages. He was of quiet and retiring disposition, studious, thoughtful, with a strong bent for studying intricate mechanical contrivances. Little is known of his early life and there is none living who knew him at that time. He was a skillful draftsman and incessant worker at different inventions all his life. He invented a successful steam plow, for which he obtained a medal in the West. He also invented a machine for grinding out hooks and eyes, a mill for grinding corn and cobs, a husking machine run by horse power, the “iron finger bar,” a machine for crushing sugar cane, a machine for making artificial ice, and other devices of more or less note.

His chief characteristic seems to have been an extremely sensitive, modest and unassuming personality. It was this reticence which has served to keep him in the background as the inventor of the reaper. He was unwilling to push himself forward, and his claim to distinction has had to rest solely upon the merits of his greatest invention.

Mr. Hussey first began work on his reaper in a room at the factory of Richard B. Chenoweth, a manufacturer of agricultural implements, and the story of those early efforts is told by Sarah A. Chenoweth, a granddaughter of the latter:

Early Efforts

“As a child, it seemed that I had always known Mr. Hussey. I saw him every day of my life, for he lived in a room, the use of which my grandfather, Richard B. Chenoweth, a manufacturer of agricultural implements in Baltimore City, had given him at his factory. No grown person was allowed to enter, for in this room he spent most of his time making patterns for the perfecting of his reaper. I, unforbidden, was his constant visitor, and asked him numberless questions, one of which, I remember, was why he washed and dried his dishes with shavings. His reply was characteristic of himself, ‘Shavings are clean.’

First Trial

“At this time I was about seven years of age, having been born in 1824. Although very poor at the time, he was a man of education, upright and honorable, and so very gentle in both speech and manner that I never knew fear or awe of him. I do not know for a certainty how long he remained there,—several years, at the least, I think, but of his connection with the reaper, I am positive, for it was talked of morning, noon and night. To this day, my brother bears on his finger a scar, made by receiving a cut from one of the teeth of the machine. When, finally, the model was completed, it was brought out into the yard of the factory for trial. This trial was made on a board, drilled with holes, and stuck full of rye straws. I helped to put those very straws in place. Mr. Hussey, with repressed excitement, stood watching, and when he saw the perfect success of his invention, he hastened to his room too moved and agitated to speak. This scene is vividly impressed on my mind, as is also a remark made by a workman, that Mr. Hussey did not wish us to see the tears in his eyes.”

The story of Mr. Hussey’s efforts at that time is also told by a brother of the little granddaughter:

“Chicago, Nov. 25, 1893.

“Clark Lane, Esq.,
“Elkhart, Ind.

“My Dear Sir:—

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