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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).


coffee: pre-Starbucks

Coffee makes us severe, grave, & philosophical.–Jonathan Swift, 1722

Without a single Starbucks on the horizon, the ancient Abyssinians (Ethiopia) had to do something. Legend has it that the beans & leaves of bunn, as coffee was called, at first were simply chewed, but the inventive Ethiopians quickly graduated to more palatable ways of getting their caffeine fix. They brewed the leaves & berries  as a weak tea…. Finally, probably in the 16th century, someone roasted the beans, ground them, & made an infusion. Ah! Coffee as we know it (or a variety thereof) finally came into being….
In the first half of the 17th century, coffee was still an exotic beverage, & like other such rare substances as sugar, cocoa, & tea, initially was used primarily as an expensive medicine by the upper classes. It wasn’t until 1689 when the Café de Procope opened in Paris, that coffeehouses throughout continental Europe evolved into egalitarian meeting places….

Twenty-five years after they were banned by Charles II in 1675, there were more than two thousand London coffeehouses. They came to be known as ‘penny universities,’ because for that price one could purchase a cup of coffee & sit for hours listening to extraordinary conversations.   Now, for a lot more money, you have to endure someone else’s inane cell phone conversation. Edward Lloyd’s establishment catered primarily to seafarers & merchants, & he regularly prepared “ships’ lists” for underwriters who met there to broker insurance contracts. Thus began Lloyd’s of London, the famous insurance company.

Colonial Philadelphia’s London Coffee House, located at the corner of Front & High Streets near the city’s docks, was established in 1754 by William Bradford, a Philadelphia printer.   Like Lloyd’s of London, insurance contracts were underwritten.  “By 1758 the Insurance Office at the Coffee House had two clerks on duty every day… to take care of writing out policies of insurance & securing underwriting signatures” (Ruwell).  In addition to mercantile transactions, real estate deals were also brokered along with slave auctions from the 1750s until the passage of Pennsylvania’s abolition laws in 1780.  Needing larger quarters, befitting the largest, most cosmopolitan city in British North America, Philadelphia’s merchant cartel built the Merchants’ Coffee House, later known as “City Tavern,” a popular meeting place for members of the Continental Congress.
During the late 1760s, the coffeehouses of colonial North America also became political centers referred to as “seminaries of sedition” by Tory sympathizers.

Coffeehouses, according to Jurgen Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962), were one of the primary vehicles in the 18th century in which an absolutist “representational” culture was replaced with the rational-critical dialogue of the public sphere (Öffentlichkeit).

Wesley, Samuel Sebastian

Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-76) – grandson of hymn writer Charles Wesley & son of Samuel Wesley (1766-1837) & Sarah Suter (who had been his housekeeper). Suter bore him several children & their relationship out of wedlock continued because of Samuel’s attraction to the opinions of Martin Madan (non-conformist cleric & a first cousin of William Cowper), who held unorthodox views on marriage. In 1780 Madan wrote Thelyphthora, or A Treatise on Female Ruin, a work on how polygamy was okay by the Bible & would solve the problems of adultery & prostitution. Back in 1748 Madan attended one of John Wesley’s evangelical services, got religion on the spot, & took holy orders.

Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope (4th Earl of)

  • The popularity of George Whitefield was such that the Privy Council debated whether steps should be taken to prevent his vast evangelical rallies. “Make him a bishop, & you will silence him at once”.

A Paean to Trivia


  • This TV game show, which debuted in March, 1964, was created by Merv Griffin [who also composed its theme song “Think” as a lullaby for his son] & hosted by Art Flemming.  After eleven years on the air, the show was canceled by NBC.  Although it enjoyed a brief, one-season revival in 1978, it was once again canceled due to poor ratings.  In 1984, CBS picked up the show & transformed it into a prime time syndicated program with a new host.  The show has been on the air ever since, airing on local CBS affiliate stations & in various international versions in over 25 countries.

“What is Jeopardy?”

  • This popular Canadian-born game show host graduated from the University of Ottawa (founded 1848 by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate as the College of Bytown) with a degree in Philosophy. He has won several Emmy Awards; has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (located at 6501 Hollywood Blvd – near Ann Margaret & Vincent Price); once owned a thoroughbred horse ranch & winery in Creston, Calif.; & in 1996 carried the Olympic Torch in Jacksonville Fla, en route to Atlanta for the Summer Games.

“Who is Alex Trebek?”

  • This Jeopardy contestant holds the record for greatest amount of prize money won in one day ($75,000, on 23 July 2004) as well as the longest winning streak (182 calendar days) & g


    reatest overall amount won ever ($2,522,700).  [Prior to 2004, a contestant could win a maximum of five games. From 1984 to 1990, contestants’ winnings were capped at $75,000].

“Who is Ken Jennings?”

  • Instead of “What is Fedex?” the correct response that Ken Jennings should have given in Final Jeopardy to the statement: “Most of this firm’s 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only 4 months a year?”

“What is, ‘What is H&R Block’?”? [Jennings was in the lead going into the final round, but contestant Nancy Zerg answered correctly.  Her wager was just enough to beat Jennings, ending his consecutive win streak.]

On one show, the category was “Tool Time” & the question was, “This term for a long-handled gardening tool can also mean an immoral pleasure seeker.” Jennings buzzed in & answered, “What is a hoe?” Alex quipped, “Is that what they teach you in school in Utah?” The correct answer was, “What is a rake?”

The map below shows where Jeopardy! was most popular at the time of its 35th anniversary in 1999.  In the key to the map, those designated “Trebekkies” (after the host Alex Trebek) watch the show most avidly.  [note high correlation to “red” states]