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Step 1: Artifact analysis

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  1. Give a physical description of the object.
    • How big is it?
    • What is it made of?
  2. Describe any unique aspects of this artifact.
    • What are the colors?
    • Are there movable parts?
    • What’s printed on it?
  3. What are some possible uses for this artifact?
    • Who might have used it?
    • Where might it have been used?
    • Why might someone want a tool like this?
  4. What does this artifact “tell” us?
    • How does it explain the technology of the time period?
    • What does it say about the people who may have used it?
    • Why would someone from the city view this tool differently than someone from the country?
  5. How is this technology different today?
    • What are the pros and cons to the technology of this artifact?

Step 2: Description of Artifact

First premium corn sheller

The corn sheller became popular in the late 1800s. It was “perfected” by the 1870s and was able to shell a bushel of corn in five minutes or 10 to 12 bushels in an hour. According to the “Catalogue of Agricultural and Horticultural Tools,” the cost of a Clinton corn sheller ranged between $6 and $10. Both farmers and poultry raisers appreciated the handiness of the corn sheller for its ability to adapt between larger and small ears as well as green or dry ears of corn. The corn sheller itself only weighed about eight pounds before being encased in its receptacle.

The lower part of the sheller would be stationary, keeping the cob in place. The kernels were stripped from the cob by cranking a gear. The holding section had sharp edged wheels on it, which is what shelled the ear of corn. The machine was easily operated and needed little to no instruction. This machine became especially helpful because as one hand cranked the wheel, the other hand could quickly feed more corn into the holding apparatus.

Step 3: Historical context — The Gilded Age

Consider both the corn sheller and your knowledge of the Gilded Age time period to answer the following questions:

  1. What were the effects of industrialization on rural Americans, especially those in Vermont?
    • What were the benefits?
    • What were the costs?
  2. What was the attitude toward technology at this time in the United States and in Vermont?
    • Did Americans embrace or resist technological changes?
    • How did Americans living in the city view technology advances differently than those living in the country?
  3. Did the changes of the Gilded Age affect Americans and Vermonters sense of identity?

Step 4: Final narrative

This artifact of the corn sheller is an excellent example of the industrial innovations of the time period of the Gilded Age. Any sort of technology that could make life a little bit easier was a necessity. In just a few years, the corn sheller overcame many improvements to make the job of shelling corn fast and economical. Originally the corn kernels would get stuck and block the machine.  However, it was finally improved so much that it rarely became out of order.

The attributes of the corn sheller were probably viewed differently depending on how and where a person was raised. Farmers tended to stay fairly traditional, but they also appreciated anything that would make their difficult jobs a little bit easier. This tool wasn’t meant to help make money for the farmer but instead make a time consuming process less intensive. On the other hand, people who were living in the towns and villages viewed technological advances as money makers. Even advertisements trying to sell the corn sheller promoted it as a money maker. Either way, the corn sheller yielded positive results.

The Gilded Age probably provided farmers with more technological inventions than any other period in history. Not only was the corn sheller improved during this time, but so were the cream separator, cow milking machine, and animal treadmills which provided power to smaller machines. Farmers were entering an age where a balance between tradition and industrialization needed to be made. The corn sheller was just one way to achieve that balance.

Sources

Paul M. Searls, Two Vermonts: Geography and Identity, 1865-1910. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire Press, 2006

“Curtis Goddard’s ‘Little Speedy’ Corn Sheller,” Scientific American, 1877. http://www.americanartifacts.com Accessed August 6, 2007.

Catalogue of Agricultural and Horticultural Tools. Boston, MA: Joseph Breck & Son., n.d.

Ardrey, P.L., American Agricultural Implements. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, Inc, reprint 1973

Lesson plan and commentary by

Mya Vallerand
Spaulding High School
Barre, Vermont