Donated in 1979 by Martha Harmon of Industry, this antique hand-crank corn sheller manufactured by E.G. Isch & Co. of Peoria was once an item seen on many farms in the area.
This corn sheller is medium-sized but they could range in size from hand held to wagon mounted. Made of wood, the corn sheller is a box-like device about three feet high standing on a footed base about 17 inches wide. Painted on one side is the maker’s name, “E.G. Isch & Co., Peoria, ILL.” The Peoria Blue Book Directory of 1915 lists the Isch Company as a maker of farm machinery.
In the mid-19th century, inventions brought mechanization to the American farm. Prior to this, farm work was done entirely by hand or with simple machines. A great extent of inventions focused on working with corn, a very labor-intensive crop. It has to be picked, shucked, dried, and shelled. The largest portion of corn related inventions were for the shelling or stripping off the kernels from the cob.
Positioned on one side of the corn sheller is a metal flywheel about two feet across and on the other side is a wooden crank handle about one foot long. Mounted atop the main “box” is the metal opening into which the operator would feed the corncobs. Knobbed wheels are visible inside the metal opening; they rub together and remove the kernels from the cob. Kernels would drop into a box on the ground and when the ear was clean, the cob would be ejected out the other end. Once the handle was cranked (on the other side of the sheller), the heavy flywheel helps to keep the momentum going. The flywheel is an important component to the corn sheller as hand cranking is tedious, hard work. Flywheels have been used in simple machines since ancient times, the most common example being the potter's wheel.
The shelled corn was usually used for feed corn, normally chicken feed, as most farms in the area had chickens. Sometimes the corncobs were used as fuel for stoves.
Eventually corn shellers were mechanized and mechanical corn shellers were used from the 1890's until the mid-twentieth century. Today they have been replaced by combines, which put together, or combine the work of picking, shucking and shelling, making corn shellers obsolete.
A rarity on the modern McDonough County farm, the hand crank corn sheller is still remembered by a few including Sterling Davis, a long time Macomb farmer. As a boy in the 1930’s, Davis Recalls a hand crank corn sheller at his grandfather’s farm.
He noted, that “everybody would take turns…” as shelling was a two-person job, one to turn the crank and one to feed the corn into the sheller. Davis observed how working with corn has changed since the old days and how “the hand-crank corn sheller is the fore-runner of all the mechanized corn shellers” that came to be.
Farmer’s today work with corn in a streamlined efficient way, but back before mechanization as this hand-crank simple machine shows us, farmers had to work long and hard to get the work done. Today this corn sheller shows the modern museum visitor the way they worked in the past.
From an essay by Heather Munro