|NOVEMBER 2000||Volume 2 Number 4|
David J. Corrigan, Museum Curator
The Museum of Connecticut History recently acquired one of the first reel-type lawn mowers invented by Amariah M. Hills and patented by him on January 28, 1868. With earlier models cutting was achieved by the side-to-side shearing action of a blade similar to that of a modern electric hedge trimmer. Hills' lawn mower featured "a spiral-bladed cutter" which was geared to two large cast-iron rollers and rotated as the mower was pushed forward cutting the grass as the spiral blade revolved against a stationary cutter bar.
Hills' lawn mower satisfied the burgeoning need of American homeowners for an easily-operated, efficient machine to keep their newly-created suburban lawns neatly trimmed. The ideal of a house surrounded by an expanse of green lawn was just beginning to take hold of the American psyche. Until supplanted by gas-powered rotary lawn mowers, the ritual mowing of lawns was accomplished with a reel-type mower and typically propelled by a less-than-enthusiastic adolescent.
Amariah M. Hills (1820-1897) was born in East Hartford and at age 16 was apprenticed to the Hartford silver shop of James F. and Henry Pitkin. By 1841 he was working in New York City and, in 1846, started a watch case manufacturing company which proved to be a very successful enterprise. In his most profitable year Hills sold $60,000 worth of cases. In 1861 Hills sold out, returned home and began developing his ideas for a lawn mower. By 1867, he had 480 lawn mowers made at the Curtis silverplate factory in Glastonbury. The following year Edgar Brewer of Hartford and Henry S. Sawyer of Derby formed a partnership to market Hills' patented lawn mowers and contracted with Landers, Frary & Clark of New Britain to manufacture 2500 mowers. Through Brewer's efforts, sales reached nearly $100,000 the first year.
Trade card showing the Charter Oak lawn mower, c. 1875.
Courtesy of James B. Ricci
In 1871 the Hills' Archimedean Lawn Mower Co., headed by Caleb M. Talcott of Hartford, was formed, capitalized at $400,000 and headquartered at Edgar Brewer's saddlery shop at 5 Central Row. The Museum's lawn mower is dated 1875 and also bears the date of Hills' patent and the serial number "65". The Hills' Archimedean Lawn Mower Company's "Charter Oak" model was advertised as so light and simple to run that even a young woman could operate it.
From 1884 to 1886 Hills' Archimedean Lawn Mowers were manufactured in space rented in the West Armory of Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company. By 1891 the company's capitalization had shrunk to $20,000 and its demise occurred the next year. Amariah M. Hills apparently sold his patent rights to the company in the 1870s and lived quietly in East Hartford, occupying himself with mechanical experiments in his work shop, until his death in 1897.
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