The invention of the threshing machine is credited to Andrew Meikle, a Scottish engineer. The threshing machine came about in the 1780s.
In the United States, Alexander Anderson created a model in 1782. Since Thomas Jefferson and George Washington owned farms, threshing machines were an interest to both of them. Together they went to see the new machine in action in August 1791. A year later, Jefferson ordered one of Meikle’s models from London, In a letter to James Madison, Jefferson shows his excitement over the new machine.
I expect every day to receive from Mr. Pinckney the model of the Scotch threshing machine…Mr. P. [Pinckney] writes me word that the machine from which my model is taken threshes 8. quarters (64. bushels) of oats an hour, with 4. horses and 4 men. I hope to get it in time to have one erected at Monticello to clean out the present crop.
At his Monticello estate, Jefferson ended up using three threshing machines. One was stationary and worked by water, while the other two could be moved and worked by horses. In a July 6, 1796 letter from Washington to Jefferson, the importance of a portable machine can be seen.
If you can bring a moveable threshing machine, constructed upon simple principles to perfection, it will be among the most valuable institutions in this Country; for nothing is more wanting, & to be wished for on our farms.
The threshing machine of the yesteryears is the combine of modern times. Both machines remove the grain from the stalks. The main difference is that the combine is self-propelled and eliminates both the man hours and the threshing crew that the old threshing machines used.
The combine allowed farmers to harvest their crops easier and quicker. While the number of acres has risen over the years, the number of farms has dropped. For example, in North Dakota alone, a 1998 study showed that the average farm increased over 1,000 acres but the number of farms have decreased close to 50,000 since 1920.
Library of Congress