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The Seed Drill

Up until this period, farmers planted the seeds for cereal crops by carrying the seeds in a bag and walking up and down the field throwing or broadcasting the seed. They broadcast the seed by hand on to the ploughed and harrowed ground. The problem with this method was that it did not give a very even distribution. It was not, therefore, an efficient use of the seed and much of it was wasted.

Jethro Tull invented a Seed Drill which could be pulled behind a horse. It consisted of a wheeled vehicle containing a box filled with grain. There was a wheel-driven ratchet that sprayed the seed out evenly as the Seed Drill was pulled across the field.

Tull's Seed Drill

Tull's Seed Drill

Jethro Tull (1674-1741)

Jethro Tull

Since earliest times seeds had always been sown by hand. People who worked on the land would walk over the fields randomly scattering handfuls of grain. Jethro Tull invented a machine which greatly helped to increase the harvest yield by planting seeds in straight lines.

Jethro Tull was born in Basildon, Berkshire in 1674. He did not start out as an agricultural engineer. He studied law and graduated from Oxford University in 1699. Although he was admitted to the bar in the same year, he never practised law. Tull was far more interested in the farming methods employed on his land, which he called Prosperous Farm.

Tull travelled throughout Europe to study new farming techniques. On his return to Prosperous Farm in 1701, he developed a horse-drawn mechanical Seed Drill. The Seed Drill not only planted seeds at regular intervals but also planted them at the right depth and covered them with earth. Because the seed drill planted seeds in straight lines, a mechanical horse-drawn hoe, which Tull also invented, could be used to remove weeds from between the lines of crop plants.

Tull advocated the importance of pulverising (crumbling) the soil so that air and moisture could reach the roots of the crop plants. His horse-drawn hoe was able to do this. He also emphasised the importance of manure and of tilling the soil during the growing season.

At the time, Tull's ideas came under attack, mainly because they were new. His Seed Drill was not immediately popular in England, although it was quickly adopted by the New England colonists across the Atlantic.

In 1731, Tull wrote a book called "Horse-houghing (hoeing) Husbandry" which he revised in 1733. Although his Seed Drill was improved in 1782 by adding gears to the distribution mechanism, the rotary mechanism of the drill provided the foundation for all future sowing technology.

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