Before the advent of the lawn mower, keeping a manicured lawn was a very labor intensive process. Scythes, sickles, and hand trimmers were used to keep grass at a uniform height. The Industrial Revolution, with its emphasis on mechanical labor saving devices, ushered in an era of more expansive lawns through the use of labor saving push mowers. In the period before the popularization of the internal combustion engine, lawn mowers were primarily human powered. Larger mowers, however, could be pushed or pulled by livestock.
The first mechanical lawn mower was a reel mower made by Edwin Budding. While working in a textile mill, Budding noticed that a machine that was used to cut velvet to a uniform height could be adapted to cutting wheat and other grasses. He developed the first push mower, based on a series of blades on a rotating cylinder that was powered by the movement of the mower's wheels. In 1870, Elwood McGuire created a mechanically simpler, lighter and cheaper reel mower that was better designed for common use.
The Montamower was made until the 1960's. The Montamower used a series of small disc blades. The mower gathered grass together into small bunches that could be cut by the small blades. At 7-1/2 pounds, the Montamower was very light weight. Its small blades were marketed as being impervious to stones and twigs. The Autosickle used two curved blades that were designed to cut the dandelions and taller weeds that were left behind by conventional reel mowers. The Clipper mower was patented in 1898 by Rowley K. Ortt and remained in production until the 1940's. The Clipper used a sickle bar at the front. Power from the wheels was transferred to the front scissor-like cutters.
Advances in Early Mower Technology
Although early mowers were push mowers, designed to be pushed by the person mowing the lawn, many mowers were adapted to labor saving technologies. Early reel mowers were adapted to be pulled by livestock. Around 1919, the first gasoline engines were added to push mowers. These gasoline engines sometimes propelled the cutting blades, and other times spun both the blades and propelled the mower wheels. Although developed in 1919, the gasoline powered push mower didn't gain popularity until after WWII due to the effects of the Great Depression. Many commercial lawn care professionals, such as people who maintain golf courses, use a reel mower based on 19th century technology behind a lawn tractor to maintain the grass.