Skip to main content
The Raupp Museum Online Database

Threshing Machines

Threshing Using Machines

Threshing machines saved a lot of time and labor needed to complete the same task by hand. Before machines, it took around an hour to thresh one bushel of wheat by hand. Machines made it possible to do the same amount in 10-12 seconds and cut the cost in half.

Postcard, Picture
Michael and Theresa Raupp Family Threshing, C. Summer 1908
A threshing machine in the front is connected to a steam engine behind, with hay bales stacked nearby. 

Threshing Machines Were Expensive

Threshing was a community event before machinery and it remained so after machinery. Threshing machines were very expensive and it wasn't often worth it for smaller farms to buy one. In smaller communities like Buffalo Grove, machines would be shared across multiple farms.  Farmers would help each other to complete their threshing and would share a meal at the end of the day with each other's families. 

Print, Photographic

Engine for Threshing, C. 1975

This threshing machine engine was used by Otto Nickol in c. 1912 on his farm in Buffalo Grove. This machine was made by Reeves & Company.  It is a steam powered machine that would be attached to a threshing machine using a belt to power the threshing machine. This photo was taken in 1975 on the Nickol farm. 

Threshing machines were invented and started to take off in the 1830s and 1840s. Significant improvements and changes were made over the next 100 years, making it more efficient. Originally pulled by horses, threshing machines were powered by steam engines starting around 1890. By about 1915, gasoline and diesel powered tractors made their way onto farms.

How does the machine work?

There are three major steps:

  1. Bundles of grain are put into a feeder or hopper which feeds the grain into the machine at an even rate.
  2. A separator, or set of rotating blades, tears the bundles so that the heads where the grain is are separated from the straw. The separator also beats the straw and heads together on a grooved plate. This helps remove the grain from the heads. The straw gets moved over a rack and the grain falls into shaking screens.
  3. After the grain passes through a series of screens, air blows over them, just to make sure any extra straw is removed. The grain is heavier than the straw so it falls into a hopper to be measured and dumped into sacks.

At the end, the straw that is pushed out gets made into hay bales for the farm.

Watch a demonstration of a 1920s threshing machine at Schumacher Farm, Wisconsin:

Schumacher farm is located outside Waunakee Wisconsin. Learn more at:

Credit: 1920’s Case wheat threshing machine powered by steam engine at Schumacher Farm. (2013, September 18). [Video]. YouTube.