reaper, early farm machine drawn by draft animals or tractor and used to harvest grain. Its historical predecessors were the sickle and the cradle scythe, which are still used in some parts of the world. The earliest known reaper using animal power was described by Pliny the Elder as used in Gaul. It was pushed by an ox and consisted of a box on two wheels with a comb projecting from the front of the box. The heads of the grain were torn off by the comb and fell into the box. Modern attempts to make reaping machines began in England, where the first patent was issued (1799). The first reaper to win general acceptance was made by American inventor Cyrus McCormick in 1831. The grain cut by this reaper fell on a platform, from which it was raked by a person walking beside the machine. A number of improved reapers were developed later. The combine, which threshes the grain as it is reaped, has virtually replaced the reaper, although a self-raking type is still in limited use. The mower, used for cutting hay, was developed from the reaper in the 19th cent.

See C. McCormick, The Century of the Reaper (1931, repr. 1971).

A reaper is a person (or machine) who reaps, or harvests (cuts and gathers) crops when they are ripe.

Hand reaping

Hand reaping is done by various means, including plucking the ears of grain directly by hand, cutting the grain stalks with a sickle, cutting them with a scythe, or with a later type of scythe called a cradle. Reaping is usually distinguished from mowing, which uses similar implements, but is the traditional term for cutting grass for hay, rather than reaping crops.

Reaped grain stalks tied together in a bunch is called a sheaf (plural sheafs or sheaves), and several of these may be stood together to dry out with the ears off the ground, forming stooks. A stack of sheaves may be stored for winter threshing, the sheaves being placed with the ears inwards, then covered with thatch or a tarpaulin; this is called a stack or rick (in the British Isles, where "corn" traditionally means "grain", normally corn-rick, to distinguish it from a hay rick). Ricks would be made in an area inaccessible to livestock, called a rick-yard or stack-yard.

Collecting spilt grain from the field after reaping is called gleaning, and was traditionally done either by hand, or by penning animals such as chickens on the field.

Mechanical reaping

A mechanical reaper or reaping machine is a mechanical, semi-automated device, a machine that reaps.

The Romans invented a simple mechanical reaper that cut the ears without the straw and was pushed by oxen (Pliny the Elder Nat. His. 18,296). This device was forgotten in the Dark Ages, during which period reapers reverted to using scythes and sickles to gather crops.

A much more sophisticated mechanical reaper was invented in 1831 in Union Bridge, Maryland, and patented by Cyrus McCormick in 1834 as a horse-drawn farm implement to cut small grain crops. It developed into and was replaced by the reaper-binder, which was in turn replaced by the swather and eventually the combine harvester.

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