Date: c. 1890
Description: This is an early farming tool called a corn sheller, which was used to remove (or shell) kernels of corn from the ears. Corn was and remains a highly marketable grain for livestock feed, ethanol production, and processed corn products like cornmeal and corn syrup. But the ears and husks have to be removed and the kernels separated for sale. For shelling, an ear of corn was placed into the holder as shown, and then the handle was turned. The disk would rotate and the spikes on the disk would strip the kernels from the ear, depositing them through the holes into a bucket, basin or sack underneath. This corn sheller was used at the end of the 19th century, right when corn was becoming a major part of Iowa’s economy. The earliest corn shellers were simple, spiked hoops of iron that were held in the hand and scraped over the ears of corn, removing the kernels. Then came more mechanized ones like this, powered by a hand crank. Shellers increased in size and mechanization as demand for corn kernels grew, becoming more complex and motorized as time wore on. In the modern days of giant agribusinesses with many acres to cultivate, large machines called combines do much of the work. Combines perform a combination (hence their name) of picking, husking, and shelling corn from the field and depositing them into huge storage bins. Corn and beans are then shipped to grain elevators, which store grain before it is sold. However, not all corn is sold by major agribusinesses. Many farmers in the state today grow a standard Iowa delicacy, sweet corn, for sale at local markets and to local buyers who enjoy produce right from the farm. Sweet corn can also be ground down to make many other Iowa favorites, like cornbread and corn cakes.
Donor: C. V. Shepherd