At Home in the 19th Century
Many of the early mechanical lawn mowers were designed to be pulled by horses. One enterprising manufacturer, the Leyland Steam Power Company, took up the idea first suggested by Jane Loudon in 1827 and built a steam- powered mower, but this proved so unwieldy and massive—it weighed over one and a half tons—that it was only ever barely under control and in constant danger of plowing through fences and hedges.* Finally, the introduction of simple drive chains (borrowed from the other new wonder of the age, the bicycle) and Henry Bessemer’s new lightweight steels made the small push-along mower a practical proposition, and that was just what the small suburban garden needed. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the lawn mower was comfortably established as a part of gardening life. On even the most modest properties, a good, well-cut lawn became the ideal. For one thing, it was a way of announcing to the world that the householder was prosperous enough that he didn’t need to use the space to grow vegetables for his dinner table.
* Eventually Leyland abandoned steam and mowers, and developed an interest in the new internal combustion engine. It finished life as British Leyland, the car manufacturer.
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