Harvesting Corn

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At the beginning of the 1900s, the fall corn harvest was a time-consuming activity of hard work for American farmers.

Using a team of horses and wagon, the farmer and family members often worked together to bring in the crop from the fields. Each ear of corn was picked by hand, using a metal husking hook or husking peg, strapped over a glove or mitten. The leather straps could be adjusted to fit an individual's hand, either for an adult or child.

    With smooth, swift movements, the person cut each ear of corn from the stalk, removed the husk and threw it into a wagon, pulled by a team of horses. A bang board was attached to the top, far side of the wagon, to stop and drop the thrown ears of corn. As the farmer walked up and down the rows of corn, his team of horses pulling the wagon, moved alongside him.

    Each wagonload of corn was brought up to the farmyard and put in a corncrib. The crib was a building with slatted sides, used to store and dry corn. Two full wagons of corn, husked and in the corncrib, were considered a good day's work for one farmer. During the harvest season, children frequently helped their parents in the field, both before and after school. Some of the older boys were excused from school to work in the fields.

    The corn was used first to feed livestock on the farm. Any extra corn was sold at the local grain elevator or market. Kernels of corn were shelled from the cobs throughout the winter and the remaining corncobs were burned for heat in the kitchen stove.

    Seed corn for spring planting was also saved during the fall harvest. Farmers looked for the very best examples and put them in a special box, attached to the wagon, as they walked the fields, husking thousands and thousands ears of corn.

    If winter snows came early, the corn harvest could continue well into the cold, snowy winter months. Some young men would temporarily work for farmers during this season. They were paid, between 1 1/2 and 3 1/2 cents, for each bushel of corn harvested.

    The valuable skills of rapidly picking and husking corn, improved with long hours of work. Many local and state contests for husking corn grew out of this regular harvest activity. Sometimes thousands of spectators would gather for a state or national contest. The winners of corn husking contests were as popular heroes then, as sports and entertainment figures are today.