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Jethro Tull

inventor of farming implements and methods

Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull was born at Basildon, Berkshire, on March 30, 1674. He studied law at St. John's College, Oxford, and was called to the bar at Gray's Inn in 1699, but never practiced due to ill health. In 1699, he married and began farming on his father's land at Howberry, near Wallingford.

At this time most grain seed was sown by hand. Field hands carried bags of seeds from which they would grab a handful of seed and broadcast (spread) out over the plowed field. Tull realized that this method was very wasteful, since most of the seeds would be blown away and/or eaten by birds before they ever had a chance to take root.

Frustrated by his inability to develop a more efficient hand-sowing method, Tull turned his attention to devising a mechanized seed drill. In 1701, he invented the horse-drawn seed drill. A rotating cylinder had grooves cut into it to allow seed to pass from the hopper above to a funnel below. The seed was then directed into a channel dug by a plow at the front of the machine, and then covered by a harrow attached to the rear. Although it took several years for English farmers to embrace the machine, Tull's design remained the standard for over a century.

Jethro Tull's Seed Drill

In 1709, Tull moved to a farm near Hungerford, where he continued his efforts to improve farming methods. Between 1711 and 1714, he traveled to France and Italy, where he made careful observations of the methods of agriculture in those countries. Those observations confirmed his theories as to the true use of manure as fertilizer and to the importance of "pulvering" the soil prior to planting. They also led to the invention of a plow with blades set in such a way that grass and roots were pulled up and left on the surface to dry.

Tull didn't put any of his agricultural ideas into print until 1731, when he published Horse-hoeing Husbandry. A revised and expanded version was published in 1733, as Horse-hoeing Husbandry, or an Essay on the Principles of Tillage and Vegetation.

Jethro Tull died on February 21, 1741.

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This page was last updated on 04/14/2017.