Grain cradle

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A reaper with a cradle scythe; original painting by Ernst Henseler (1852–1940)

A grain cradle or cradle, is a modification to a standard scythe to keep the cut grain stems aligned. The cradle scythe has an additional arrangement of fingers attached to the snaith (snath or snathe) to catch the cut grain so that it can be cleanly laid down in a row with the grain heads aligned for collection and efficient threshing.


As the cultivation of grain developed, the seasonal harvest became a major agricultural event. Grain could be pulled or, more typically, cut and the sickle was the usual tool, leaving sheaves of grain to be gathered. The scythe improved on the sickle by giving the mower a more ergonomic stance and permitting a larger blade.

Mowing with a scythe without a cradle tended to scatter the grain stems on the field making efficient threshing difficult. The addition of the cradle kept the stems and grain heads aligned, making them easier to sheave and the sheaves easier to thresh efficiently. The cradle could generally be removed for mowing hay in season as the hay was windrowed, did not require aligning and the scythe was more efficient without it.

Users of this tool could harvest significantly increased amounts of grain on a daily basis.[1]

American cradle (patent drawing)

Although in previous use in parts of Europe, the American-pattern cradle[clarification needed] probably originated between 1800–1840.[2]

The center of interest in this agricultural tool was the American Midwest, where grain growing was a major industry. United States patents in the decades from 1820 to 1930 totaled 50, the first issued in 1823 to a gentleman in western New York state and the last issued in 1924 to a gentleman in West Virginia. The peak of innovation was in the third quarter of the 19th century.[3]


The cradle was commonly used throughout the 1800s and into the beginning of the 20th century, in part because many of the smaller farms were not designed for mechanical reaping and in part because there were still a great number of smaller farms where the mechanical reaper was not economical. However, by the end of the 19th century the cradle had been generally replaced by the mechanical reaper, a horse-drawn (or tractor-drawn) machine patented by Cyrus McCormick in 1834, and later by other mechanical methods of harvesting such as the combine harvester.


  1. ^ "American Grain Cradles", Richard Van Vleck,
  2. ^ Divine, Robert A.; Breen, T.H.; Fredrickson, George M.; Williams, R. Hal; Gross, Ariela J.; Brands, H.W. & Roberts, Randy (2007). "Chapter 9: Nation Building and Nationalism". America: Past & Present. Pearson Education, Inc./Longman. p. 174. ISBN 0-536-50185-8. 
  3. ^ "American Grain Cradles"

External links[edit]

Media related to Cradle scythes at Wikimedia Commons