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Ageless Iron: IHC Overcomes Huge Obstacles to Introduce First Cotton Picker

Some of the most daunting engineering challenges in agriculture often did not involve tractors. Fashioning harvesting implements that could successfully pluck crops clean from their plants drove engineers into deep thought and often despair in their search for a eureka moment. In that regard, one of the most difficult of all harvesting implements to perfect was the cotton picker. 

Consider that the first patent granted on a mechanical cotton harvester was issued in 1850. Yet, it would take nearly 100 years for the first commercial picker to be introduced. It would take the largest equipment builder of it day, IHC, employing some of the most talented engineers of the time to make the picker a reality.

picker concept Dates back to Deering

International’s interest in cotton harvesters harks back to one of its founding members, Deering Harvester Company, which put a picker in the field in 1889. The heart of that machine was a spindle-type drum that plucked cotton from its bolls, leaving husks behind on plants.

After Deering and McCormick merged to create IHC, work continued on a spindle picker. One of the company’s engineers, E.A. Johnston, conceived of a design using vacuum action to remove bolls, but that effort failed.

IHC did succeed in selling a pull-type stripper harvester (that looked a lot like a corn picker), which employed chains and fingers to strip bolls from plants. However, such machines took the cotton and its hull together, so the latter had to be removed in a gin. Spindle-type designs that picked cotton clean consumed IHC engineers’ minds.

The company’s breakthrough in perfecting a spindle picker came in 1924 when it purchased a self-propelled machine built by Price-Campbell Company. This picker had some success in the field and held promise. IHC engineers modified and perfected the implement by repeatedly testing different versions in the field. In December 1942, IHC announced it had hit pay dirt. Production began shortly thereafter on the McCormick-Deering model H-10-H, a one-row picker so named for operating on top of a Farmall H.

World War II slowed production of the H-10-H. After the war, sales boomed. Soon, IHC was offering one- and two-row pickers in numerous versions. In 1956, the company introduced its first self-propelled picker, the No. 214.

Cotton picker time line

  • 1889: Angus Campbell, working for Deering Company, experiments with a spindle-type cotton picker. Many of his inventions eventually are used in later picker designs.
  • 1922: IHC tests its first picker, a vacuum-type harvester. The implement proves to be unfeasible in the field and is scrapped.
  • January 1924: IHC purchases Price-Campbell Cotton Picker Corporation. Its machine provides the basis for future designs.
  • 1929: A PTO-driven, pull-type spindle-type picker is first built by IHC.
  • 1940: IHC develops a picker design that mounts atop a Farmall H with its operation reversed so the implement’s picking drums are positioned to run ahead of the tractor, thereby, reducing boll losses.

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