McKay, Hugh Victor

McKay, Hugh Victor
b. c. 1866 Drummartin, Victoria, Australia
d. 21 May 1926 Australia
Australian inventor and manufacturer of harvesting and other agricultural equipment.
A farmer's son, at the age of 17 McKay developed modifications to the existing stripper harvester and created a machine that would not only strip the seed from standing corn, but was able to produce a threshed, winnowed and clean sample in one operation. The prototype was produced in 1884 and worked well on the two acres of wheat that had been set aside on the family farm. By arrangement with a Melbourne plough maker, five machines were made and sold for the 1885 season. In 1886 the McKay Harvester Company was formed, with offices at Ballarat, from which the machines, built by various companies, were sold. The business expanded quickly, selling sixty machines in 1888, and eventually rising to the production of nearly 2,000 harvesters in 1905. The name "Sunshine" was given to the harvester, and the "Sun" prefix was to appear on all other implements produced by the company as it diversified its production interests. In 1902 severe drought reduced machinery sales and left 2,000 harvesters unsold. McKay was forced to look to export markets to dispose of his surplus machines. By 1914 a total of 10,000 machines were being exported annually. During the First World War McKay was appointed to the Business Board of the Defence Department. Increases in the scale of production resulted in the company moving to Melbourne, where it was close to the port of entry of raw materials and was able to export the finished article more readily. In 1909 McKay produced one of the first gas-engined harvesters, but its cost prevented it from being more than an experimental prototype. By this time McKay was the largest agricultural machinery manufacturer in the Southern hemisphere, producing a wide range of implements, including binders. In 1916 McKay hired Headlie Taylor, who had developed a machine capable of harvesting fallen crops. The jointly developed machine was a major success, coming as it did in what would otherwise have been a disastrous Australian harvest. Further developments included the "Sun Auto-header" in 1923, the first of the harvesting machines to adopt the "T" configuration to be seen on modern harvesters. The Australian market was expanding fast and a keen rivalry developed between McKay and Massey Harris. Confronted by the tariff regulations with which the Australian Government had protected its indigenous machinery industry since 1906, Massey Harris sold all its Australian assets to the H.V. McKay company in 1930. Twenty-three years later Massey Ferguson acquired the old Sunshine works and was still operating from there in the 1990s.
Despite a long-running history of wage disputes with his workforce, McKay established a retiring fund as well as a self-help fund for distressed cases. Before his death he created a charitable trust and requested that some funds should be made available for the "aerial experiments" which were to lead to the establishment of the Flying Doctor Service.
Principal Honours and Distinctions
Further Reading
Graeme Quick and Wesley Buchele, 1978, The Grain Harvesters, American Society of Agricultural Engineers (devotes a chapter to the unique development of harvesting machinery which took place in Australia).

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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