This lift, once behind us, a platform, located on our left, shows us beautiful agricultural machines. Locomobiles, horse-drawn seeders, harvesters. Steam and great mechanics introduced into the work of the fields, what an immense innovation! It has been accomplished entirely in our time.
I will not let this opportunity slip to claim, for our ancestors the Gauls, the priority of harvesting machines. A text by Palladius, a fifth-century writer, proves that this priority belongs to them. A drawing that faithfully translates the text in question shows us a small carriage consisting of a box open at the top and mounted on two wheels. This carriage is pushed by an ox tied to a barrier by its yoke between two short stretchers, its head turned towards the box. Behind the ox, a Gaul holding a lever longer than the stretchers in each hand, varies the inclination of the box, which is hinged to the train, as he wishes. The four sides of this box slope outwards, and the front one, which is lower than the others, is provided at its upper edge with a row of iron teeth which, at their end, curve backwards in a horizontal plane.
Such was the machine. Its operation is understandable. Under the impulse of the ox, the reaper entered the fields, the herdsman adjusting the inclination of the box to the height of the wheat; first the ears of corn would engage between the teeth, then, as the cart continued to move forward, they would be packed into the concavity of the hooks, and finally, detached from the straw, they would fall and pile up in the cart.
Palladius tells us that this machine was in use in that part of Gaul which is on the plain. ". It saves, he said, the work of men, and by its means a single ox can do the whole harvest. In a few hours, with a few comings and goings, the harvest is finished. "
May I be forgiven for this archaeology, I recognise moreover that if we had something to ask of our first fathers of heroic and philosophical memory, it would not be to put us on the path of mechanical improvements; what we should take from them is their indomitable spirit of freedom, it is that feeling so profound and so clear of immortality and eternal perfectibility which inspired in them that sovereign contempt for death, of which the Greeks and Romans were astonished.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée