The Combine Harvester
Key Years 1864 to 1911
This invention “combines” the main operations of grain harvesting—reaping, threshing and winnowing—into one machine. While early examples were developed outside of the Valley, refinements introduced here greatly enhanced its efficiency and, in turn, transformed the way grain was produced throughout the world.
The first combine developed in the San Joaquin Valley was patented by a Valley farmer, David J. Marvin. The Stockton implement manufacturer, Matteson and Williamson, purchased the manufacturing rights in 1868. By 1875 Matteson and Williamson made improvements so it could cut twenty acres of grain a day. It was the first machine to combine reaping and threshing.
W.B. Rice and John C. Hoult develop the Centennial Combined Harvester, which cut a nine-foot swath and was able to handle forty-six acres in a single day. This inspired other manufacturers to increase the width of combine cutting bars, and represented a tremendous advance in harvesting productivity.
The first self-propelled, steam-powered grain harvester in the world was developed by George Stockton Berry near Lindsay in Tulare County. Berry lengthened the cutting bar to forty feet, and his straw-fueled steam boiler could cut and thresh more than 100 acres daily. This invention later became the recipient of an American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers Landmark Award.
William Paterson of Stockton was the first to mount a gasoline engine on a combine, further refining the Berry motorized design. Later, Paterson assisted in the development of the modern motorized tractor.
By permitting harvesting on non-level lands, the Holt Manufacturing Sidehill Combine was a significant milestone in the combine’s development. This invention was also awarded an American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers Landmark Award.
First successful gasoline engine-powered combined grain harvester (i.e., first auxiliary motor-powered combine), developed by James Tretheway and later manufactured by the Harris Manufacturing Company, Stockton. The introduction of this machine spelled the end of the horse- and mule-driven combine.
First entirely self-propelled, gasoline-powered combine grain harvester (an automobile-like design), the Caterpillar Harvester by the Holt Manufacturing Company, Stockton. This ushered in the era of the modern combine.