Image of wheat

Activity #1: Trace the Evolution of a Farming Method by Studying the Transition from Hand Tools to Animal Powered Tools to Mechanized Equipment.
Historically, the Haudenosaunee practiced mound planting, wherein they created mounds of soil about three feet round, in which were planted the Three Sisters: corn, beans and quash. This method of companion planting is still used today. Generally the Haudenosaunee did not use domestic animals to assist in crop growing. They used hand tools such as hoes and spades made of stone, wood and bone.

European settlers in New York applied their traditional farming methods, using both human and animal powered tools to prepare the land, plant and harvest their crops. The Dutch, and later the English, grew wheat and other grains, grasses, garden produce, and fruits. Both the Dutch and the English learned techniques for growing maize and pumpkins from the Native Americans. These farmers endured back breaking work which required a whole community of laborers to complete. Throughout the nineteenth century hundreds of new labor saving tools were invented. These animal-powered implements facilitated plowing, tilling, cultivating and harvesting.

By the late-nineteenth century, a new source of power had emerged - the steam engine. Steam-powered agricultural equipment reduced the manpower necessary to farm the land but was very large and too expensive for many farmers to own.

Steam-powered machinery gave rise to the first gasoline traction engines at the turn of the twentieth century. The title gasoline-traction engine was soon replaced by the term "tractor". By the mid-twentieth century, farmers had almost completely given up using animal-powered machinery and adopted the use of gasoline-powered machinery. The tractor made farming more efficient by requiring fewer laborers to plant and harvest larger tracks of land.

  • Review excerpts from Dairy Farming: A Growing Industry, a Yorkers document-based question activity. Have the students view the images and answer the accompanying questions. Use a t-chart to contrast early dairy farming with late nineteenth century methods.
  • Students will search the Primary Sources database to find images and historic advertisements for farm equipment from the collections of The Farmers' Museum and the New York State Historical Association. Using the agricultural implements worksheet have the students find an example of a hand-powered tool, an animal-powered tool and a steam or gasoline-powered machine for each category. Create a visual timeline tracing the technological change of farming implements.