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Technology in Illinois Agriculture

Illinois became a major agricultural state with the great help of technology. In 1820, settlers used hand tools and wooden plows to farm their few acres. By 1850, steel plows and steam engines were doing much of the work. By 1880, Illinois inventors and industrialists were making a multitude of improvements and innovations in farm machinery. From the second quarter of the twentieth century, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and medicines radically changed the management of the farm.

Transportation system developments and improvements also dramatically changed the marketing of farm commodities. Refrigerated freight cars increased the distance fresh produce and meat could travel to markets. Dams and dredging improved the navigability of rivers. Drainage tile systems expanded acreage available for farming.

The Museum’s collections of nineteenth-century farm tools and machinery and patent models illustrate the history of technological development and manufacture in by Illinois companies. Many of the world-famous agricultural machines, such as the John Deere Plow, were first invented and made in Illinois. The Museum’s historical photograph collections show farmers using some of these traditional and ‘new” machines and tools, teaching us about tools and processes that have disappeared, and giving us an appreciation of the contributions of those farmers.