The first lawn mower was invented by Edwin budding in 1827 in Gloucestershire. Budding’s mower was designed primarily to cut the grass on sports grounds and extensive gardens, and was granted a British patent on August 31, 1830. These machines were the catalyst, world-wide, for the preparation of modern-style sporting ovals, playing fields, pitches, grass courts, etc. This led to the codification of modern rules for many sports, including the codes for football, lawn bowls, lawn tennis and others.
It took ten more years and further innovations to create a machine that could be drawn by animals, and sixty years before a steam-powered lawn mower was built. The first machine produced was 19 inches (480 mm) wide with a frame made of wrought iron. The mower was pushed from behind; through gears, the rear roller drove the knives on the cutting cylinder. Another roller placed between the cutting cylinder and the main or land roller could be raised or lowered to alter the height of cut. Once cut, the grass clippings were hurled forward into a tray-like box. It was soon realized, however, that an extra handle was needed in front to help pull the machine along.
Two of the earliest Budding machines sold went to Regent’s Park Zoological Gardens in London and the Oxford Colleges, In an agreement between John Ferrabee and Edwin Budding dated May 18, 1830, Ferrabee paid the costs of enlarging the once small blades, obtained letters of patent and acquired rights to manufacture, sell and license other manufacturers in the production of lawn mowers.
These early machines were all made of cast iron and featured a large rear roller with a cutting cylinder (a “reel”) in the front. Cast iron gear wheels transmitted power from the rear roller to the cutting cylinder. Overall, these machines were remarkably similar to modern mowers. Without patent, Budding and Ferrabee were shrewd enough to allow other companies to build copies of their mower under license, the most successful of these being Ransomes of Ipswich which began making mowers as early as 1832. In the middle of the decade, Thomas Green and Son of Leeds introduced a mower called the Silens Messor (meaning silent cutter), which used a chain to transmit power from the rear roller to the cutting cylinder. These machines were lighter and quieter than the gear driven machines that preceded them, although they were slightly more expensive.
Thomas Green produced the first chain-driven mower in 1859. Manufacture of lawn mowers began in the 1860s. By 1862, Ferrabee’s company was making eight models in various roller sizes. He manufactured over 5000 machines until production ceased in 1863. The first United States patent for a reel lawn mower was granted to Amariah Hills on January 12, 1868.
In 1870, Elwood McGuire of Richmond, Indiana designed a human-pushed lawn mower, which was very lightweight and a commercial success. John Burr patented an improved rotary-blade lawn mower in 1899, with the wheel placement altered for better performance. Amariah Hills went on to found the Archimedean Lawn Mower Co. in 1871. Around 1900, one of the best known English machines was the Ransomes’ Automaton, available in chain- or gear-driven models. JP Engineering of Leicester, founded after World War 1, produced a range of very popular chain driven mowers. About this time, an operator could ride behind animals that pulled the large machines. These were the first riding mowers. In 1902, Ransomes produced the first commercially available mower powered by an internal combustion gasoline engine. In the United States, gasoline powered lawn mowers were first manufactured in 1919 by Colonel Edwin George.
The rise in popularity of lawn sports helped prompt the spread of the invention. Lawn mowers became a more efficient alternative to the scythe and domesticated grazing animals. James Sumner of Lancashire patented the first steam-powered lawn mower in 1893. His machine burned petrol and/or paraffin (kerosene) as fuel. These were heavy machines that took several hours to warm up to operating pressure. After numerous advances, the machines were sold by the Stott Fertilizer and Insecticide Company of Manchester and, later, Sumner took over sales. The company they controlled was called the Leyland Steam Motor Company. Numerous manufacturers entered the field with petrol (gasoline)-driven mowers after the start of the 20th century. The first grass boxes were flat trays but took their present shape in the 1860s. The roller-drive lawn mower has changed very little since around 1930. Gang mowers, those with multiple sets of blades, were built in the United States in 1919 by the Worthington Mower Company.
Atco Ltd and the first motor mower
In the 1920s one of the most successful companies to emerge during this period was Atco, at that time a brand name of Charles H Pugh Ltd. The Atco motor mower, launched in 1921 was an immediate success. Just 900 of the 22in cut machines were made in 1921, each costing £75. Within five years, annual production had accelerated to tens of thousands. Prices were cut and a range of sizes was available, making the Standard the first truly mass-produced motor mower.
Rotary mowers were not developed until engines were small enough and powerful enough to run the blades at a high speed. Many people experimented with rotary blades in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and Power Specialties Ltd. introduced a gasoline-powered rotary mower. Kut Kwick replaced the saw blade of the “Pulp Saw” with a double-edged blade and a cutter deck, converting the “Pulp Saw” into the first ever out-front rotary mower. One company that produced rotary mowers commercially was the Australian Victa company, starting in 1952: these mowers were lighter and easier to use than the mowers that came before. The first Victa mowers were made at Mortlake (Sydney) by local resident Mervyn Victor Richardson. He made the first out of scrap in his garage and then moved to a shed behind St Mary’s Church of England, where the first Victa mowers were manufactured and went on sale on 20 September 1952. The new company, Victa Lawnmowers Pty Ltd, was incorporated on 13 February 1953. The venture was so successful that by 1958 the company moved to much larger premises in Parramatta Road, Concord and then to Milperra, by which time the mower incorporated a Victa designed and manufactured engine especially suitable for mowing rather than using a generalpurpose engine. Two Victa mowers, from 1958 and 1968 respectively, are held in the collection of the National Museum of Australia. The Victa mower is regarded as something of an Australian icon, appearing as simulations en masse at the opening of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.