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Early Lawn Mowers

In the August 1961 Spinning Wheel appeared a short article on "The Lawn Mower." One paragraph read: "Lawn tennis came in the 1870s; croquet was popular, too; golf followed in a decade. All increased the need of grass-cutting equipment. A mower propelled by a man on a tricycle was unsuccessful as was a ton and a half steam-driven mower."

Comes now, from Cleland Coldwell Ross, Santa Barbara, California, information about these two mowers, and about his grandfather, Thomas Coldwell, of the Coldwell Lawn Mower Co., the man who invented them.

Apparently no effort was made to market the tricycle lawn mower. Its propulsion took too much effort, writes Mr. Ross, but he recalls, as a boy, having seen it on exhibit at an Orange County (N. Y.) Fair.

As for the steam driven mower, it should not be called unsuccessful. Patented in 1897 or 1898, it was being used on the Capitol Grounds in Washington as early as 1900; and in 1904, the Scientific American stated in the article from which picture and excerpts below were taken, "A number of these machines are now in use." It was short-lived, though, for in 1903, the company had turned to the production of the first gasoline engine driven ride type mower. Lighter, and simpler to operate, this type continued in production until the 1920s.

Thomas Coldwell built the first lawn mower in America, at Newburgh, New York, about 1852, while in the employ of H. W. Swift, who subsequently continued to manufacture similar mowers at Wicopee, near Beacon, New York. These mowers were of a heavy roller type, patterned after the English models.

In 1868, Thomas Coldwell, with George L. Chadborn and Lewis M. Smith formed a partnership to manufacture lawn mowers. With changes in ownership, it became Chadborn & Coldwell Mfg. Co. in 1870, and the Coldwell Lawn Mower Co. in 1891. The Coldwell factory was located in Newburgh, New York.

When Thomas Coldwell died in 1905, his son, William H., continued the business. In 1914, William Coldwell developed the first walk power driven mower; in 1915, he developed, patented, and marketed a tractor driven gang mower, forerunner of the gang mowers used today. Between father and son, the inventive Coldwells patented more than 40 original ideas and improvements for lawn mowers.

The Coldwell Lawn Mower Co. no longer exists; its assets were taken over by the Toro Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Thomas Coldwell, born in Staleybridge, England, was brought to this country at the age of four. In his early teens he was apprenticed in a shop where files were sharpened. In 1863, he patented a file-cutting machine, later a felt-making machine, a lawn mower grinder, used by all lawn mower manufacturers, a coupler for bicycles, and many other inventions unrelated to lawn mowers.

He believed inventive genius could be cultivated. To that end, he pioneered in the use of the suggestion system in shops, and offered prizes to students at the Newburgh Manual Training School for creative suggestions. Both these efforts attracted nationwide attention.

From THE SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, JAN. 30, 1904...steam is supplied from a 20-inch boiler of the fire-tube type, wh. ch has 24 feet of feed-tvater heating coils in the dome, and contains 668 fire tubes in its main portion. Directly behind it is a 2-cylinder Mason engine of 3% X 4~~ bore and stroke. The eng~ne is connected with a sprocket on the countershaft by means of a heavy chain; sprocket can be unlocked from the shaft by throwing out a positive clutch if it is desired to run the engine alone for any purpose. The countershaft drives the main roller by a sprocket and chain, and the lawn mower by means of chains on each side. The roller is fitted with 2 hand brakes one on each side, which are applied by a heed pedal. It carries 60 gallons of water and 10 gallons of gasoline, the tanks being respectively beneath the seat and the floor board. The water is sufficient to last for an 8-hour run on good ground, while the gasoline consumpt;on for that length of time is about 15 gallons. The boiler is fitted with a regular tube burner and a fuel regulator; an automatic air pump for maintaining the pressure in the gasoline tank is geared to the engine. The work:ng pressure employed is ISO pounds per square inch, and the speed of which the machine is capable is 4 miles per hour. It may be used as a roller by raising the grass cutter by means of the lever shown at one side; it can run backward or forward; a 900 X 450 foot polo field can be cut and rolled in 8 hours. The machine can be used for other purposes . . . threshing grain, sawing wood, and spraying trees.

Below: The first walk type power driven mower as developed in 1914 by William H. Coldwell, in use on grounds of Washington's Headquarters, Newburgh, N. Y. Mr, Ross, who supplied these notes on Coldwell lawn mowers, made the drawings and designed all the tools for its production.

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