Edwin Beard Budding: Democratizing the Lawn

Edwin_Budding_Mower_-_BLM_CuratorThe idea of a machine to cut grass was developed in Gloucestershire, England around 1830 by freelance engineer Edwin Beard Budding (1795–1846).  Budding’s mower was designed primarily to cut the lawn on sports grounds & expansive gardens as an alternative to sheep & the scythe.  His patent of 25 October, 1830 described “a new combination and application of machinery for the purpose of cropping or shearing the vegetable surfaces of lawns, grass-plats and pleasure grounds…. country gentlemen may find in using my machine themselves an amusing, useful and healthy exercise.” By 1885, U.S. manufacturers were pumping out machines at the rate of fifty thousand a year. In 1893, the first steam-powered mower was patented, and a few decades later the gasoline-powered mower hit the market.

Soon mechanical mowers enabled not only “country gentlemen,” but middle-class home owners to have lawns & cut their own grass, thus democratizing the lawn.  A lawn came to symbolize not class distinction, but a commitment to a communitarian project, or rather competition, among neighbors for the greenest, most weed-free, manicured lawn, albeit, non-productive, unnatural, resource depleting, & chemically induced.  A lawn, Robert Fulford has written,  is  the “surest indicator that the deadliest of the seven deadly sins has attacked.  A dandelion’s appearance on a lawn indicates that Sloth has taken up residence in paradise.  And when a whole lawn comes alive with dandelions then that property instantly becomes an affront to the street & to the middle-class world of which the street is a part.  Dandelions demonstrate a weakness of the soul.  They announce that the owner of the house refuses to respect the neighborhood’s right to peace, order, good government”. [The Lawn: North America’s Magnificent Obsession (1998). 

Today, lawns cover 40 million acres, making them the largest agricultural sector in America, consuming 270 billion gallons of water a week, & costing $40 billion a year on seed, sod, and chemicals.  The U.S. spends more on fertilizers for its golf courses than many developing countries spend on fertilizing crops.  No wonder the International Golf Course Equipment Managers Association (IGCEMA) introduced “The Edwin Budding Award” to honor technicians in the golf sector who have made a major contribution to that industry.

Edwin Budding not only invented the reel mower, but also the adjustable crescent wrench (later improved by a Gloucestershire work colleague, Richard Clyburn in 1843).

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