The Bison. Noble Ungulate wanderer traveling across continents.
Originally from Europe, the Old Country, the bison arrived in the New Country millennia before it was known as America (1). In the great open land where, one day, meritocracy would throw off the shackles of European aristocracy. For in this new land it did not matter what station in life you were born to, it only mattered what station in life you desired to achieve.
Here there was a new continent with fields aplenty. Vast tracts of untrodden lands to be tamed – a continent to be cultivated and prepared for a great outpouring of human ingenuity that would change the world.
Here in the new world, so much was new that, many immigrants changed their names (2). Some dropped a syllable, other re-arranged some letters. A few changed their names entirely. The Stag became the Buck. The Elk became the Moose. The Bison became the Buffalo.
The Old World, small ancient land that it is, had been tamed and tidied ages ago. Compact little towns hugged cozy farm lands. Tidy rivers ran along beautiful, but small, open spaces. Every inch of earth was ordered and claimed; there was no room for expansion.
This was not so in the New World.
The Buffalo arrived with a strong back prepared to clear the vast tracts of the American West. But there would be no need for the agrarian scythe – not with the Buffalo!
In the New World the Buffalo consumed the wild grass, and grew fat and strong. He transformed thousands of hectares of untamed vegetation into tillable farmland. A boon to the immigrant farmer and a blessing to prosperity.
Tragically though, the Buffalo was cut down by greed and stupidity. By the late Nineteenth Century, precious few of it’s once boundless numbers were left. Not gone from the landscape forever, no, but the immensity of its thundering herds would live in memory only.
Thousands of hooves trembling the ground until it seemed the earth shook the great heavens above.
ENTER THE AMERICAN REAPER COMPANY
In the 1860s and 70s, Inginuity and mechanical contrivance began to replace the strong back as the primary efforts of labor (3). Sweat alone would not determine the future of progress.
So was born the reaper – harvester of thousands of square miles of land. The American Reaper Company, one of the first and most successful mechanical agricultural harvesting manufacturers, named its first model reaper ‘The Buffalo‘. To say it was everywhere is an exaggeration. However, to say that it felt like it was everywhere, would be the truth.
More than a million and a half Buffalo model reapers were sold in it’s first decade of production. The machine quickly dominated the market. For decades no competitor could come close to its sales numbers; American Reaper Company’s competitors tried everything.
In desperation, in 1936, a lawsuit was brought against the United States Government and the American Reaper Company (4). The plaintiffs claimed that the nickel featuring the Buffalo (the animal) was an improper and unfair Government supportation private industry (you could buy a lot for a nickel back then).
For years the suit dragged out, finally being settled in 1938 when the Buffalo was replaced with the Jefferson Memorial on the nickel (5). The removal of the Buffalo from the nickel foreshadowed the decline of the Buffalo Reaper.
THE END OF AN ERA
The negative publicity ginned up by the high-profile lawsuit drew a significant amount of business away from the American Reaper Company. Profits sharply declined. It was only the company’s manufacture of stainless steel cookware (6) that kept them profitable during the war years.
By the late 1940s technological innovations had rendered the Buffalo Reaper largely obsolete. Too much capital was needed to retool the production line for a product that was being left behind by increasingly advanced grass shearing technology. The best that could be done was modify the hitch to allow for mechanical tractor use instead of equine conveyance alone.
In 1952 the last Buffalo reaper was manufactured. In 1956, with insurmountable debt and few prospects, the company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. The majority of its assets were sold to clear its debts. Some small manufacturing space and precision equipment remained. These were sold by the owners to Bill Gates Sr., who would give the space and equipment to his son, who would later use the space to create the company Microsoft (7).
While the American Reaper Company is no more, it’s surviving products (the Buffalo in particular) are lovingly maintained and kept in use by grass-shearing enthusiasts around the world.
(1) The exact date of arrival is unknown, but the Bison is known to have been in what is now in the central United States some 5,000 years ago.
(2) There are a number of reasons immigrants change their names: to assimilate in the new home country, for simplicity, for pure fun or folly, or to aid in employment.
(3) A 1938 study by Randolph Sontise and the Iowa Institute of Engineering Technology figured the mechanical advantage in the 1870s alone increased agrarian productivity by some 650%.
(4) Harvester, Barrow, & General Implements Co. vs. the United States Government & American Reaper Company.
(5) In 1959 a similar suit brought by the United Sans Gluten Growers Alliance against the Federal Government and Grain Growers Group saw a change to the reverse of the penny for the first time in nearly six decades. The double chaffs of wheat being replaced by the Lincoln Memorial.
(6) American Reaper Company, along with other stainless steel cookware manufacturers, produced a sharp decline in the popularity of the cast iron cookware from the American kitchen. So significant, that by 1960, fewer than 20% of households used cast iron pots and pans as their primary cook vessels. By 1990, cast iron was widely regarded as a novelty.
(7) There is only one source to support this American Reaper Company – Microsoft connection, namely this article, so we must add the caveat that this connection may be factually incorroboratable.