Esterly Reaper

Date in History: 1844

America’s first successful harvesting machine was invented right here in Whitewater, Wisconsin by an ambitious, energetic man named George Esterly. Esterly came to the area in 1837 and was soon operating a large wheat farm. Harvesting his huge crop, however, was such a back breaking and expensive proposition, he became determined to build a mechanical reaper.

In 1844 he did just that, harvesting 10 acres of his wheat in just one morning. His reaper was so successful that in 1848 it won the gold medal from the Chicago Mechanics Institute, beating out the only other entry – a little thing called the McCormick Reaper.

Soon thereafter Esterly opened a large factory on the east side of Whitewater, producing reapers, plows, seeders and mowers. At the height of production in the 1880s, it employed over 500 men, many of whom built houses in the area that became known as Reaperville.

This historic document aired on the radio as an Historic Minute on 04/28/2003.

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