Edwin Bearn Budding is the inventor of the lawnmower. It’s a bit hard to imagine a world without lawns (though we’ve heard they’re not so great for the environment) and the people who take pride in them. In fact, the average American spends 4 hours a week taking care of their lawn.
But at first, Budding wasn’t so sure about his contraption. The year was 1830, and no one technically had a lawn to be mowed. Naturally, he figured people would make fun of him for the invention. And perhaps they would have.
Budding was so self-conscious about the invention that he would only test out his lawnmower prototypes at night, under cover of darkness, so his neighbors couldn’t see him. Of course, these were manual mowers, so they didn’t have the tell-tale engines that let us know when our neighbor is mowing today, though his machine was reportedly pretty noisy.
Most inventors seem pretty stoked about their creations, but perhaps Budding was just humble. While he was born the illegitimate son of a farmer, he got an education that led him to an interest in technical matters. He became a pattern maker at an iron foundry, then a machinist at a cotton mill.
Before his lawnmower, he also invented a pistol more sophisticated than a Colt, but it appears Colt’s 1836 patent won out in the end.
Budding’s lawnmower was conceived of during his time in the cotton mills, and in many ways, it mimics the movements of a napping machine, which uses blades to trim off long fibers from cloth evenly and efficiently.
The wrought iron machine had adjustable blades and was pushed from behind while a tray collected clippings at the front. (Frankly, it sounds better than some of the manual push mowers around today.)
After the patent, Budding went into business with John Ferrabee, who owned Phoenix Iron Works, so the machine could be mass-produced and sold (after all, you don’t get anything from just inventing something). Things went well for the pair, and a few years later, they were attracting buyers across England, selling 1000 machines by 1840.
Budding died of a stroke in 1846, so he never got to see how his invention changed people’s lives. It was used to care for sports fields and public parks, improve gardens, and cut down on manual labor on farms (a scythe or a grazing animal was your only choice before the lawnmower).
It also created a whole new class of gardeners and groundsmen who used it to create gardens as status symbols. A bit later, they were explicitly marketed to women as a fashionable way to get exercise.
We’ve come a long way since then (for better or worse), but it’s incredible to think it all started with one man mowing his lawn in the dark. – WTF fun facts