Combines loom large on the museum floor—but they loom even larger on the physical and historical landscape of America’s agricultural heartland. Standing high on the horizon, combines both symbolize and represent the reality of the mechanization of modern agriculture. The 1938 Massey-Harris Model 20 self-propelled combine, a designated landmark of American agricultural engineering, was the first commercially successful, self-propelled combine to make its way through an American harvest.
The harvest was, and still is, the defining event of a farm community. It was the most complicated, time-critical, labor-intensive activity of the farmer’s year, and everyone—men and women, young and old, rich and poor—participated. Through much of history, the success of the harvest could make or break a farming community.
Throughout most of our nation’s history, the amount of acreage that could be successfully harvested before the crop was damaged by weather, insects, or rot determined how much land would be planted. Not surprisingly, over the last several hundred years, tremendous time and effort has been put toward improving the speed and efficiency of the harvest.