The harvest has arrived!

10/17/2022 | Mark Hanson, Curator

The harvest has arrived, and the fields are bustling with combines, tractors, and trucks. Well into the 1940s, harvest looked quite a bit different than it does today. Some farm families still picked corn by hand!

The only tool used to handpick corn was a husking peg, or husking hook. The husking hook shown here at top had a leather strap than wrapped around the hand. The husking peg at bottom had a thumb loop. Both artifacts are about 5 inches long. Their use is deceptively simple, but an art form in actuality.

The harvester would grab an ear of corn with the hand holding the hook or peg to open the husk and expose the ear. The other hand would twist the ear from the stalk and toss it into a wagon. This process occurred in a single fluid motion while walking down a row. Harvesting 80 to 100 clean bushels for corn by hand was a hard day’s work! For horses pulling the wagon, the work was light. Good horses would walk along in time with the harvester on their own.

Did you know that many states hold cornhusking competitions for sport? McDonough County, Illinois, hosted this year’s 100th annual National Cornhusking Competition. Today the popularity of the sport is waning, but in 1940, the national event drew 400,000 people!