Why won’t farmers buy Charles Newbold cast-iron plow?
June 26, 1797 — Charles Newbold of Chesterfield, NJ was awarded the patent for the cast-iron plow today. Unfortunately, farmers weren’t impressed. The reason: Those who first saw it demonstrated at General John Black’s orchard feared the iron would poison their soil.
Undaunted, Newbold spent a significant amount of money on improvements. It was never to be. Although this invention could increase the efficiency of farm workers, cast iron contained imperfections. The metal wore down or the brittleness of the cast iron caused it to break when it hit an obstruction.
A decade later, on April 1, 1807, fellow New Jersey native David Peacock, was granted a patent for an iron plow. Newbold sued for patent infringement — and won $1,500 in damages. While Peacock’s plow was better, it wasn’t perfect.
He used moldboard, share and point and cast the in three separate pieces. These parts were joined, with the point of the colter entering a notch in the breast of the share. Thus if the point broke by striking a rock or root, the point alone could be replaced on Peacock’s plow. If the point broke on a Newbold plow, the entire cast unit had to be discarded.
By 1819, Jethro Wood of Scipio, NY, came up with an even better solution. If the point broke on his plow by striking a root, spare parts were interchangeable so he fame didn’t have to buy an entirely new plow. Wood enjoyed more commercial success, but spent the proceeds defending his patent from infringers.
At last, in 1833, steel was incorporated into the plow’s designed. The winner of the plow wars was John Deere, of Moline Illinois — who manufactured, and astutely marketed, the plow that most farmers own today.
Words of Wisdom
Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field.