Saddle Up and Mow That Lawn

At Home in the 19th Century

Many of the early mechanical lawn mowers were designed to be pulled by horses. One enterprising manu¬≠facturer, the Leyland Steam Power Company, took up the idea first sug¬≠gested by Jane Loudon in 1827 and built a¬† steam- powered mower, but this proved so unwieldy and¬† massive‚ÄĒit weighed over one and a half tons‚ÄĒthat 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôt need to use the space to grow veg¬≠etables 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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