Bell, Revd Patrick

Bell, Revd Patrick
b. 1799 Auchterhouse, Scotland
d. 22 April 1869 Carmyllie, Scotland
Scottish inventor of the first successful reaping machine.
The son of a Forfarshire tenant farmer, Patrick Bell obtained an MA from the University of St Andrews. His early association with farming kindled an interest in engineering and mechanics and he was to maintain a workshop not only on his father's farm, but also, in later life, at the parsonage at Carmyllie.
He was still studying divinity when he invented his reaping machine. Using garden shears as the basis of his design, he built a model in 1827 and a full-scale prototype the following year. Not wishing the machine to be seen during his early experiments, he and his brother planted a sheaf of oats in soil laid out in a shed, and first tried the machine on this. It cut well enough but left the straw in a mess behind it. A canvas belt system was devised and another secret trial in the barn was followed by a night excursion into a field, where corn was successfully harvested.
Two machines were at work during 1828, apparently achieving a harvest rate of one acre per hour. In 1832 there were ten machines at work, and at least another four had been sent to the United States by this time. Despite their success Bell did not patent his design, feeling that the idea should be given free to the world. In later years he was to regret the decision, feeling that the many badly-made imitations resulted in its poor reputation and prevented its adoption.
Bell's calling took precedence over his inventive interests and after qualifying he went to Canada in 1833, spending four years in Fergus, Ontario. He later returned to Scotland and be-came the minister at Carmyllie, with a living of £150 per annum.
Principal Honours and Distinctions
Late in the day he was honoured for his part in the development of the reaping machine. He received an honorary degree from the University of St Andrews and in 1868 a testimonial and £1,000 raised by public subscription by the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland.
1854, Journal of Agriculture (perhaps stung by other claims, Bell wrote his own account).
Further Reading
G.Quick and W.Buchele, 1978, The Grain Harvesters, American Society of Agricultural Engineers (gives an account of the development of harvesting machinery).
L.J.Jones, 1979, History of Technology, pp. 101–48 (gives a critical assessment of the various claims regarding the originality of the invention).
J.Hendrick, 1928, Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, pp.
51–69 (provides a celebration of Bell's achievement on its centenary).

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

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