We're getting closer to cotton harvest. Soon, cotton strippers will be a consistent part of our landscape as area farmers work to bring in this year's crop. It's an essential component of West Texas's history and legacy. We're proud to be a part of it by supporting area cotton farmers and providing them with the best equipment to get the job done.
As we get closer to this year's harvest, we thought it would be interesting to take a look back and see the history of the cotton stripper. Here is a little of what we learned.
The early to mid-1800’s brought about some big changes to agriculture. In the Northern section of the United States, grain farmers benefited from the grain drill and mechanical reaper. In the Southern part of the United States, two Tennessee inventors labored over an invention that would ultimately turn out to be the second most important tool the cotton industry had ever seen. In 1850, Samuel S. Rembert and Jedidiah Prescott introduced Southern cotton producers to their brand new, patented cotton harvesting machine.
On its own, the cotton harvesting machine was impressive, but what’s truly extraordinary is how these two inventors foresaw how much cotton production would change in the upcoming years and how they prepared for these changes. They proudly explained to producers how the machine would evolve as the cotton plantation changed and grew. “Our cotton picking machine may be multiplied and extended to such a width as to embrace several rows of cotton at once.”
The creation of this machine forever changed the way cotton was harvested in the United States.
A cotton stripper in Lubbock County in the 1950's. Image Source
The First Cotton Strippers in West Texas
This early harvesting machine served cotton growers well, but as times continued to change, it became apparent that the system could be even better. The desire to further improve cotton production led to the creation of the first cotton strippers in the 1870’s. The patent for the first cotton stripper was issued to John Hughes in 1871. It took some time for the early cotton strippers to gain popularity, but by the 1920’s they were a common sight in West Texas’s cotton fields.
Those early cotton strippers were built on sleds and made it possible for producers to harvest each day. During the extra bountiful 1926 West Texas cotton harvest, farmers sold their cotton for approximately $2.75 a bale. The cotton producers paid between $9 and $27 for those early, sled style cotton strippers.
John Deere Starts Cotton Stripping
John Deere has always been a company that recognizes a good idea and works hard to improve upon it. When it was apparent that a bigger, better, more efficient cotton stripper was something that West Texas cotton producers would benefit from, the equipment manufacturer teamed up with Texas A&M University. Together they designed a mule-drawn cotton stripper that allowed producers to do what had previously seemed impossible: harvest 100 acres of cotton (in a single harvest) with just one machine. The most interesting feature of the first John Deere cotton stripper was its interlocking lubs. The cost of those first John Deere cotton strippers was $185. Sadly, the start of the Great Depression forced John Deere to halt production of their early cotton strippers for a time.
Following the end of WWI, the production of cotton strippers resumed. In 1948, approximately 6,000 cotton strippers could be found in Texas and Oklahoma. A year later, the first cotton strippers with brush rollers became available.
Cotton Plants Evolve
During this time period, cotton strippers weren’t the only new thing in West Texas. The cotton plants themselves were changing, thanks to work done by Texas Tech University and Lubbock plant researchers at Texas A&M College. Predicting the importance heavy equipment would have on cotton production in the future, these scientists worked hard to select plants that seemed particularly adapted for machine harvesting. Other features they bred for included:
- The ability to reach full maturity in a short period of time
- Drought resistance
- The quality of the cotton
John Deere officially stopped manufacturing cotton pickers in 2002 so the company could dedicate its cotton resources to crafting and producing the best possible cotton strippers. This video does an excellent job showing how cotton pickers changed from the early ones created by John Deere all the way through to the last one the company made.
We're grateful for our area farmers and the ways they benefit our region and our nation. Their history is long and rich, and we are grateful to be a part of it. We're proud to offer John Deere cotton strippers and the parts needed to keep them running smoothly.