The lawn mower was invented in 1830 by Edwin Beard Budding, an
engineer from Stroud, Gloucestershire, England.
He obtained the idea after seeing a machine in a local cloth mill
which used a cutting cylinder (or bladed reel) mounted on a bench to
trim cloth to make a smooth finish after weaving. Budding realised
that a similar concept would enable the cutting of grass if the
mechanism could be mounted in a wheeled frame to make the blades
rotate close to the lawn's surface.
These early lawnmowers were all made of cast iron and featured a
large rear roller with a cutting cylinder in the front. Cast iron gear
wheels transmitted power from the rear roller to the mowers cutting
cylinder. Overall, these early lawnmowers were remarkably similar to
In the middle of the 1850's, Thomas Green and Son of
Leeds introduced a lawnmower
called the Silens Messor (meaning silent cutter), which used a chain
to transmit power from the rear roller to the lawnmowers cutting
cylinder. These lawnmowers were lighter and quieter than the gear
driven machines that preceded them, although they were slightly more
expensive. At roughly the same time, Alexander Shanks of Arbroath
introduced its range of Caledonia mowers and Ransomes introduced the
Automaton. All were available with either gear or chain drive, and
grass collection boxes were an optional extra. All these models, in
various sizes and with minor modification, were in production well
into the 20th century.
The next major innovation in lawn mower design was the introduction
of the side wheel machines. Although invented in England, these
machines were popular in North America where grass is often coarser
than in Europe. They had cast iron wheels at each side which drove the
cutting cylinder directly by means of ratchets inside the castings.
They did not have a metal rear roller, and were very light and
inexpensive to make, which made them very popular all over the world.
Motorised lawnmowers appeared in the 1890s as lightweight petrol
engines and small steam power units became available. Although steam
mowers were the preferred choice for a few years, by 1900 petrol
engined lawnmowers were winning in the market. Ransomes, Sims and
Jefferies introduced a petrol engined mower in 1902, and led the
market until the First World War, although Shanks and Greens also made
petrol engined machines during this period.
The period immediately after World War One saw an unprecedented
growth in lawn mower production. Technology had advanced, companies
needed to find new markets for peace time products, and customers were
moving to new suburban housing with small gardens. One of the most
successful companies to emerge during this period was Atco, at that
time a brand name of Charles H Pugh Ltd. The Atco motor mower,
launched in 1921 was an immediate success. Just 900 of the 22in cut
machines were made in 1921, each costing £75. Within five years,
Within five years, annual production had accelerated to tens of
thousands. Prices were cut and a range of sizes was available, making
the Standard the first truly mass produced motor lawnmower.
Another company which became incredibly successful in the 1920s and
30s was Qualcast. Models such as its E side-wheel and Panther roller
mowers sold in millions, at just a few pounds each, to people with
small lawns who needed an economical and reliable lawnmower for a few
minutes a week.
Surprisingly, seemingly modern ideas such as electric power and
rotary cutting were all tried out in the 1920s and 30s, although they
did not become popular until much later. Innovations in the 1930s and
40s led to lighter designs and smaller, more powerful petrol engines.
By the 1950s lawnmower technology had advanced greatly and machines
were inexpensive and generally reliable. The introduction of plastic
components in the 1960s reduced costs further still, although
traditional designs were similar.
The major innovation of the the last thirty years has been the
rotary hover mower, made possible by widespread use of lightweight
plastics and high-power, lightweight electric and petrol motors. The
first 'hover' mowers were introduced by Flymo in the early 1960s.
These machines were blue and white, rather than the more familiar
orange designs seen today.
Sadly, many of the old lawnmower companies have disappeared, having
gone out of business, moved into other markets or merged with each
other. However, the machines continue to attract the interest of
collectors and enthusiasts throughout the world