Who Invented the Lawnmower?

Who Invented the Lawnmower?


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John Burr was a prominent 19th-century African American inventor. He is best-known for his invention of the modern rotary lawnmower. Not much is known about Burr’s life, but he was influential in engineering circles during his prime. This article examines his life and career.

A Son of Freed Slaves

John Burr was born in Maryland in 1848. He was the son of freed slaves and worked as a field hand until he was about 17. At 18 he managed, with the patronage of wealthy African American activists, to attend engineering classes at a nearby private university in Maryland. Burr excelled in his studies. He was one of the brightest students in his cohort.

Employed as a Machinist

Burr made a comfortable living as a machinist. He spent most of his time servicing farm equipment. He was an able repairman and a capable steelworker. He moved to Chicago sometime in the 1870s. There, he continued to work in repair and maintenance. He would not begin successful inventing until the 1890s.


The Lawnmower

John Burr invented the modern rotary lawnmower in 1899. The design was intended to prevent the clogging that plagued other mowers. Lawn care at the time was a nightmare of overly complex machinery and dangerous contraptions. The modern powered mowers of the present day were still decades away. This rotary innovation would pave the way for much safer and easier labor.

Subsequent Inventing

The rotary mower enabled Burr to focus his efforts elsewhere. He patented several subsequent improvements to

This original design. Inaddition, he invented several devices for sifting and dispersing mulch. Royalties kept him comfortable for many years. He was able to travel and lecture in his later life.

A Long and Productive Life

Burr’s life was a long and productive one. When he died of influenza in 1926, he held over 30 U.S. patents. Most of his inventions were centered on easing the burden of farm workers and laborers. His early experience as a field hand had instilled a deep respect for the plight of the worker into his morality. He died in comfortable obscurity, a quiet activist for the poor and downtrodden.

John Burr is a quiet presence in the history of inventing. The lack of information about his life makes it hard to pinpoint his influences and impact on later African American inventors. While he may no longer be a prominent figure, his invention revolutionized lawn care. He helped ease the loads of millions of put-upon laborers, and that legacy alone is worth preserving.