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25 Years of Innovation: Lawn Tractors

Did you ever think you'd need a cell-phone outlet on your lawn mower? Times have changed!

Lawn Mowers
Photo by Robert Laberge
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Add up all the lawns in America and you get a patch of grass roughly the size of Kentucky. No wonder an $8.3 billion-a-year industry has grown up around lawn care and maintenance. Over the past quarter century, progress has picked up speed. In the 1970s, state-of-the-art meant anything with a motor. Today, you don't have to settle for a walk-behind mower that you have to push (self-propelled, please!), or a garden tractor without a cell phone outlet. If innovation keeps to its present pace, soon you'll be vaporizing your grass with laser beams — that is, if it isn't genetically engineered to never need cutting at all.

The Past
To appreciate the state of lawn-care technology in the '70s, think back to how a freshly mowed lawn from that decade looked. Whether cut with a mower or a riding tractor, chances are it was done in a straight pattern, the rows marked in clippings that missed the bag. Tractors like the one pictured here, besides being more polluting and harder to maneuver than today's models, had about half the horsepower and none of the creature comforts. They could be dangerous too, resulting in thousands more injuries a year.

Add up all the lawns in America and you get a patch of grass roughly the size of Kentucky. No wonder an $8.3 billion-a-year industry has grown up around lawn care and maintenance. Over the past quarter century, progress has picked up speed. In the 1970s, state-of-the-art meant anything with a motor. Today, you don't have to settle for a walk-behind mower that you have to push (self-propelled, please!), or a garden tractor without a cell phone outlet. If innovation keeps to its present pace, soon you'll be vaporizing your grass with laser beams — that is, if it isn't genetically engineered to never need cutting at all.

The Past
To appreciate the state of lawn-care technology in the '70s, think back to how a freshly mowed lawn from that decade looked. Whether cut with a mower or a riding tractor, chances are it was done in a straight pattern, the rows marked in clippings that missed the bag. Tractors like the one pictured here, besides being more polluting and harder to maneuver than today's models, had about half the horsepower and none of the creature comforts. They could be dangerous too, resulting in thousands more injuries a year.

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The Present

 

The Present

robotic lawn mower
Photo by Getty Images
Today's lawn mowers can cut in tight, undulating patterns (crop circles, anyone?), and they leave behind no clippings, unless you specifically set them to do so. Besides performing better, modern mowers are safer, stronger, more comfortable, and a lot easier on the environment.

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The Future

 

The Future

FlyMo, the first hovering lawn mower
Photo by Getty Images
Tomorrow's lawn care equipment won't just be different — it may be obsolete. That's because geneticists are working on "no-growth" grasses that never need cutting. If that's not enough, some experts hint at the possibility of photosensitive varieties that glow in the dark. In the meantime, mower manufacturers are still busy designing new ways to cut grass. The German company Wolf-Garten has introduced this prototype of a laser mower called the Zero.

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Great Mow-ments in History

 

Great Mow-ments in History

first electrical lawn mower from Coldwell
Photo by Getty Images
1830

Edwin Beard Budding patents the reel lawn mower in England, replacing scythes as the grass-cutting tool of choice.

1902
The first internal combustion engine ride-on mower is introduced.

1919Col. Edwin George uses the engine from his wife's washing machine to create the first gas-powered walk-behind mower.

1925
The manufacturing company Coldwell rolls out the first electric mowers.

1931
First U.S. patent issued for a rotary mower. The rotating action requires fewer blades than a reel mower, and they stay sharp longer.

1963
John Deere develops the residential lawn tractor.

1964

FlyMo, the first hovering lawn mower, is brought to market.

1965

Astroturf is invented.

1989
Texas A&M's Cooperative Extension makes mulching popular with its "Don't Bag It" campaign.

1992

The U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association is founded. Drivers like Mowdacious and Weedy Gonzalez hit speeds of 60 mph.

1994
Alvin Straight, 73, rides a mower from Iowa to Wisconsin to visit his estranged brother — an event depicted in the 1999 film The Straight Story.

1995

Introduction of the first robotic lawn mower.

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Where to Find It

 

Where to Find It

reel lawn mower
Photo by Getty Images
Tractor manufacturers:
The Toro Company
Bloomington, IN
800-348-2424
www.toro.com

John Deere
Moline, IL
866-993-3373
www.johndeere.com

Wolf-Garten
Minneapolis, MN
612-455-1500
www.wolf-garten.com

Hovering lawn mower:
Flymo
www.flymo.com

Robotic lawn mower:
Friendly Robotics
Coppell, TX
214-277-8100
www.friendlyrobotics.com

United States Lawn Mower Racing Association:
Glenview, IL
847-729-7363
www.letsmow.com

Lawn mower historians:
Andrew Hall
The Hall and Duck Trust
London, UK
www.hdtrust.co.uk

James Ricci
Reel Lawn Mower History & Preservation Project
Haydenville, MA
413-268-7863

Associations:
Professional Lawn Care Association of America
Washington, DC
202-479-4000
www.plcaa.org

Outdoor Power Equipment Institute Inc.
Old Town Alexandria, VA
703-549-7600
www.opei.org

 
 

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