This Australian cereal harvesting machine made by H.V. McKay Pty Ltd of Sunshine, Victoria, in 1935 is known by various names: a header-harvester, initially a reaper-thresher, and later just a header. It is an Australian innovation and is significant because it solved the problem in Australia of harvesting storm flattened crops, and by the 1920s it was the usual harvesting machine in New South Wales, though the stripper-harvester and even the stripper continued to be used for light crops and rough terrain.
This header was designed in 1913 by Headlie Shipard Taylor of Henty, New South Wales, and the principle was to cut the heads from the crop with a knife at the base of the comb rather that beat them off. In a good standing crop it cut just before the heads, but where the crop was down or tangled nearly all the straw went through the machinery via spiral augers to the threshing drum in the body of the machine.
H.V. McKay was so impressed with the capabilities of Taylor's header that in 1916 he bought the rights to his patents. At the time McKay's popular stripper-harvester was being challenged by the Canadian reaper-thresher made by Massey-Harris. McKay employed Taylor to manufacture his machine at his Sunshine Harvester Works, near Melbourne, marketing it as the 'Sunshine Header'. From its first sales for the 1916-1917 harvest it was an outstanding success. It not only met the Massey-Harris challenge but quickly superseded the stripper-harvester, especially after it spectacular triumph over the storm damaged crop of 1920-1921. This machine harvested wheat, oats and barley and with special attachments it could also harvest peas. It won the reputation of being the greatest harvesting machine ever built, enabling the successful harvesting of every condition of crop, whether light, heavy, storm-tangled or weed-infested, and was light in draught as it did not pull on the straw as with the stripper principle. By the 1920s the technology of cereal harvesting machinery had reached its ultimate general form. Although minor improvements continued to be made, the principle had been firmly established.
Simpson, Margaret & Phillip, 'Old Farm Machinery in Australia: A fieldguide and sourcebook', Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, NSW, 1991, p.65-6.
'The Sunshine Header-Harvester' information booklet published by H.V. McKay Pty Ltd.
Curator, Science, Technology & Industry