A Seed Fiddle

hand centrifugal seeder
Hand centrifugal seeder. MCHS object 1969-026-0002.

The hand-operated broadcast seeder shown above also went by the names “fiddle bow seed sower” or “seed fiddle.” It gets these nicknames because operating it is like playing a fiddle. A catalog from 1891 describes it like this:

“This is a very light machine, weighing but three pounds, is carried over the shoulder by a strap; the sack will hold a half-bushel; there is a slide that works over an opening in the bottom of [the] hopper, which is continually aggitated [sic] by the destributor [sic]. … [T]he destributor is operated by a bow, one full stroke at every step; it is a regular motion and comes perfectly natural with the easy swing of the arm.”

(1891 Annual Catalogue of Reliable Seeds, page 53)

illustration of a fiddle bow seed sower
Illustration of a farmer using a fiddle bow seed sower from the 1891 Annual Catalogue of Reliable Seeds.

The sower could adjust the rate of seed flow onto the distributor to match the length of his stride. A person could sow two acres an hour using a seed fiddle.

The markings on the seeder pictured above identify it as made by S.B. Rittenhouse in Indiana. Silas Rittenhouse patented his hand seeder in 1888. The Madison County Historical Society received this example from Ida Krauskopf (née Noonan) and her daughter Dorothy (Krauskopf) LeVora. Ida and her husband Henry had a farm in Nameoki. Her father and father-in-law were both farmers in Chouteau.

Illustration from US Patent 386,497 for a Hand Seeder, issued July 24, 1888, to S.B. Rittenhouse.