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Hand-Held Corn Shellers

Richard Van Vleck
From Scientific Medical & Mechanical Antiques, No. 15
Last revised 8/1/99

Mid-19th century America was primarily an agricultural nation. Patents were granted for an incredible variety of devices designed to mechanize the American farm. While we were still importing most of our scientific instruments, we were already exporting tens of thousands of horse-drawn reapers, mowers, and plows. Much of the evolving American agricultural technology was directed toward the production of the indigenous Indian corn or maize.

Perhaps the largest category of corn related inventions were for shelling or stripping the kernels from the cob. Picker wheel or disk type shellers appeared as early as 1815. The spiked disk was turned by a hand crank while an ear of corn was pressed against the spikes. Shelled kernels dropped into a container, and, the empty cob was tossed aside. Next, the picker wheel was enclosed in a housing which channeled the ear through the machine, greatly speeding up the process. Cobs and kernels fell to the bottom together in these early machines, requiring extra work to separate the two after shelling. This problem was remedied in the 1840's by a design which expelled the cob out the side of the machine while the kernels dropped out the bottom.

Both box mounted and floor model disk shellers are commonly encountered at farm auctions and antique shops in corn country. However, frequently overlooked are the great variety of hand shellers that were manufactured in the 19th and early 20th century.

We recently had the pleasure of viewing and photographing the extensive sheller collection of Robert Rauhauser, of Thomasville, Pennsylvania. Bob is considered by many to be one of the foremost collectors and researchers of these devices. He has traveled tens of thousands of miles seeking out rare shellers, sometimes following the most tenuous of leads, in the hope of adding one more item to his collection. Most of the photos of hand held shellers in this article are of examples in Bobís collection. Anyone with an interest in corn or hay related items or literature may write to Robert Rauhauser at Box 766, RR 2, Thomasville, PA 17364-9622.

NEW for corn sheller researchers and collectors. The complete U.S. Patents for all hand and box mounted shellers are now available on CD-ROM. Easily find and view any patent in its entirety or print high resolution full page copies.

pictures of hand shellershand sheller patents larger shellers other SMMA articles
All U.S. Patents for hand corn shellers on CD-ROM


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Contact: Richard Van Vleck