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Cool Things - Angell Plow

Angell plow

This revolutionary plow was invented by a farmer from Plains, Kansas. It worked so well that some people believe it contributed to the Dust Bowl.

It is a scaled-down version of the field model, which usually measured ten feet across. Angell made this four-foot model in 1926 to use in his family's vegetable garden.

Wheat was king in Kansas during the 1920s. World War I created heavy demand for the grain, and the government encouraged production by guaranteeing prices. Great Plains farmers met the challenge during the war and after. Between 1909 and 1929 they broke 32 million acres for new wheat lands. Production of wheat jumped 300 per cent in the 1920s.

Prosperous wheat farmers invested heavily in newly available machinery, such as gasoline-powered tractors, one-way disc plows, and combines. These machines increased farm productivity but that caused prices to fall. Farmers compensated by breaking even more land for wheat.

The sod-busting frenzy removed natural vegetation that held topsoil in place. Due to drought, crops did not grow well enough to anchor the soil. This added to the problem of blowing dirt.

During the wheat enthusiasm, farmers favored the newly available one-way disc plow developed by farmer/mechanic Charles Angell of Plains, Kansas. Angell's idea was to set all the plow's discs at the same vertical angle. Because of this feature the device became known as the "one-way" plow. It plowed faster, handled heavy stubble well, broke hard sun-baked soil, and destroyed weeds.

Charles Angell built close to 500 plows on his Meade County farm, then sold the rights to the Ohio Cultivator Company. Other companies later produced similar machines. The one-way disc plow was widely used on the southern Plains.

The one-way has been criticized as a contributing cause of the Dust Bowl. This is true only because it was overused by many farmers. Plains farmers had been encouraged to use dry-farming methods. This meant leaving some land unplanted every year and discing fields often to create a "dust mulch." One-way plows were almost too good at this. Their frequent use left a finely-pulverized surface layer that was extremely vulnerable to the wind.

The Angell plow is in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History, where it is on display in the main gallery.

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Entry: Cool Things - Angell Plow

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 1997

Date Modified: October 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.