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5 Farming Technologies That Changed the World


5
The Plow
The plow has been around since ancient times and is still used today. Joakim Leroy/E+/Getty Images
The plow has been around since ancient times and is still used today. Joakim Leroy/E+/Getty Images

This ancient tool revolutionized farming. By 3500 B.C.E., Egyptians were turning the soil using an iron-tipped, wooden wedge-shaped implement pulled by oxen. Thanks to the plow, early farmers were able to till more land faster than before, allowing them to produce more crops in a shorter time. The plow also helped to control weeds and bury crop residue. It was such an efficient tool that there wasn't much difference between the first plows that turned the sandy Mesopotamian soil and those used in medieval Europe thousands of years later, save the addition of a moldboard behind the blade to turn the soil once it was broken.

Even in the early 1800s, American West pioneers were using a similar style of plow fashioned out of wood and cast iron to furrow tough-as-nails prairie soil. But this soil was dense and sticky; it clung to plow blades and forced farmers to manually remove it every few steps.

In 1837, a chance meeting between an Illinois blacksmith and a broken steel saw blade set the plow on its modern course. The blacksmith, John Deere, noticed the steel saw blade was slick and polished from use, and fashioned it into a prototype plow blade. Unlike cast iron, the steel blades didn't gum up with the heavy soil. By 1855, John Deere was selling 13,000 steel plows a year, marking the beginning of one of America's most prolific agricultural manufacturing companies and well-used implements [source: Modern Marvels].