The Cradle Scythe or Grain Cradle

scythe illustrations
Illustrations of a farmer using a scythe (left) and a grain cradle (right) from The Growth of Industrial Art.

Before the invention of the cradle scythe, or grain cradle, people harvested grain with a sickle or a scythe. Using a sickle, the reaper would grasp the stalks with one hand, cut them with the sickle in his other hand, and place the cut stalks into a windrow. If he used a scythe instead, he didn’t have to stoop over to mow the grain. But then the cut stalks fell to the ground every which way and he had to go back and gather them into an orderly windrow later.

First patented in 1823, the grain cradle is a scythe with a claw-like cradle attached. The three to six iron fingers of the cradle parallel the length and curve of the scythe blade. A snead attaches the cradle fingers to the blade end of the scythe handle. The cradle catches the grain each time the mower swings the scythe. The mower then tilts the cradle and drops the cut stalks, already oriented in the same direction, into the windrow. An experienced cradler could harvest two acres of wheat per day.

cradle scythe owned by John G. Kluge
Cradle scythe used by John G. Kluge in the mid-to-late nineteenth century for harvesting grain. MCHS object 1966-010-0001.

The owner of the grain cradle shown above, John G. Kluge, was born in Germany in 1836. He and his parents immigrated to the United States around 1850 and came to Collinsville in 1852. John was a jack of all trades: miner, farmhand, blacksmith, carpenter. He and his wife Maria (née Kuhlenbeck) raised three sons in Collinsville. Two of his sons opened the Kluge Brothers hardware store in Collinsville in 1893. The grain cradle was donated by grandson Harry A. Kluge, a civil engineer and vice-president at the First National Bank of Collinsville.

hand planter illustration
Advertisement for a grain cradle in the 1897 Sears Roebuck Catalogue.


  • Butterworth, Benjamin, arr. The Growth of Industrial Art. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1892. Accessed July 26, 2018.
  • Collinsville city directories. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.
  • Edwardsville Intelligencer. Madison County centennial edition. 1912. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.
  • Find A Grave. Accessed August 1, 2018.
  • Israel, Fred L., ed. 1897 Sears Roebuck Catalogue. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1968. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.
  • Scythe Supply. “Grain Cradle: History, Use, and How to Make One.” The ScytheSupply Blog. Accessed August 2, 2018.
  • Sloane, Eric. A Museum of Early American Tools. New York: Ballatine Books, 1964. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.
  • United States census records.
  • Van Vleck, Richard. “American Grain Cradles.” American Artifacts. Accessed August 2, 2018.