Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Charles McGovern

Committee Member

Adrienne Petty

Committee Member

Carol Sheriff

Committee Member

Emily Pawley


Farming people in the Midwestern United States and in Ontario began using new machines throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. These included machines related to the production of grain crops—including threshers, reapers, and drills—as well as machines related to the production of the farm household— such as sewing and washing machines. In their use, maintenance, and alteration of machines within the natural and social contexts of their farms, rural people produced new technological systems of industrial agriculture. They also struggled with machine manufacturers and their agents for control of those systems—both as individuals and through farmer’s organizations. This dissertation contributes to historiographies of capitalism, technology, and agriculture as it demonstrates the importance of knowledge, maintenance, and tinkering on the farm to the mechanization of grain agriculture. This dissertation follows the production and maintenance of, as well as the struggle over, the technological systems of mechanized grain farming from the introduction of horse-powered machines in the middle decades of the century to the end of the century, when those machines had become indispensable and central parts of farms themselves. Over that time, farming people became more dependent on the large-scale production of wheat and turned to further mechanization to sustain their operations. Their dependence on wheat production, the increased complexity of machines, farmers’ reliance on replacement parts, and the efforts of manufacturers and their agents to assert themselves as authorities over industrial agriculture left the technological agency of farming people diminished.



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