Troy-Bilt rototillers had their start in 1857 in Europe. A large, steam-powered "earth grinder" called the Romain Crosskill Digger was pulled by horses. Konrad von Meyenberg of Switzerland patented the original idea of a rototiller in 1910 and licensed Siemens-Schuckert-Werke, a German company, to produce rototillers. In Switzerland in 1918, Simar Co. began producing a similar tiller. Rotary tilling gained popularity in the United States during the 1920s. C. W. Kelsey of Troy, New York, became a distributor for Siemens and in 1930 established The Rototiller Co. Two years later he added the Simar tiller to his import and distribution business.
C. W. Kelsey noted that changes were necessary to improve the rototillers that were manufactured in Europe. They were not built for U.S. soil, which was still rocky compared to the soil that centuries of farming had produced. In 1932, C. W. Kelsey registered the Rototiller trademark and began manufacturing the All-American Rototiller that was a smaller version of the imported models in 1934. In 1937, Kelsey developed the first rear tine rototiller using the German Earth Grinders as a model. It was named the Model A-1 and was still a heavy piece of machinery. During World War II, the factory was converted into a defense plant. By the end of the war, rototillers had become popular. In 1944, Rototiller Inc. made plans to discontinue production of the professional model rototiller and manufacture small home gardener tillers exclusively. Three years later, Kelsey entered into a contract with Graham-Paige Motors Corp. Graham-Paige would manufacture large commercial rototillers and make the parts for the small home garden version.
The same basic function and designs are still used today. Several companies manufacture rear tine rototillers using Kelsey's design as their basis. Kelsey retired in 1957 and turned the company over to George Done. Rototiller Inc, changed hands and names several times during the years. Parts are still produced by Graham-Paige Motors Corp. Today, Troy-Bilt rototillers are manufactured by MTD Products Inc. along with other popular home yard equipment such as Cub Cadet, Bolens and Yard Man.
Earth Grinders, as they began at their inception, were designed to streamline farming for large commercial farmers during the Industrial Revolution. As the design was improved upon, the use has not changed. Home gardeners and commercial farmers alike use rototillers to break up soil and smooth it for planting produce, flowers and herbs. Turning the soil, mixing amendments and aerating the soil are the three primary functions of a rototiller.
Features that made Troy-Bilt rototillers innovative were the power-driven wheels and the rear tines. Power-driven wheels made these heavy farming work horses easier to maneuver. As they became smaller and designed for the home gardener, power-driven wheels were still important. Rototillers are still heavy but pushing with the assistance of the wheels make them manageable. Rear tines were designed specifically for U.S. soil, which is generally rocky and hard to till. Rear tines are pulled through the soil as the turn. Pulling the tines through the soil instead of pushing them into it relieves unnecessary pressure and prevents the tines from breaking.
Home gardeners and commercial farmers around the world benefit from the use of rear tine rototillers. The ease in which soil amendments are mixed into the soil, the ease of planting large plots of land and the durability of rototillers makes them more efficient than the horse and plow method. Weeks are no longer needed to plow the land and prepare for planting which means crops are in the ground sooner. Tilled soil is looser making planting easier.