The stripper-harvester is an Australian innovation for harvesting cereal crops devised in the late 1880s in Victoria. The machine combined the operations of the South Australian stripper with the irksome job of winnowing. It reduced the labour requirements on Australian farms and increased the efficiency of wheat production. At the same time construction of the railways enabled a massive expansion of the wheat growing areas which all contributed to Australia becoming a leader in cereal production.
The 'Sunshine' stripper-harvester is the most famous and successful of the harvesters produced up until that time. Although not invented by Hugh Victor McKay, he took the idea and developed it into an extremely successful machine. His entrepreneurial flair saw the machine sell some 10,000 units overseas by 1914.
The stripper-harvester was the first product made by McKay's company which by 1907 was called The Sunshine Harvester Co. This firm went on to produce a wide range of agricultural machines and implements under the 'Sun' label including the 'Sunflower' disc cultivator, 'Sundercut' stump jump plough, and 'Suntyne' seed drill, at their works near Melbourne. For years it was the largest factory in Australia, covering 30 acres and employing over 3,000 workers, and the largest agricultural manufacturer in the southern hemisphere.
The stripper-harvester certainly saved the farmer's family the dirty job of winnowing and lessened the labour requirements for the harvest, but could not cut any more acres in a day than the stripper. Despite the stripper-harvester's development occurring in the 1880s, its adoption in Australia was fairly slow and it was not until after 1910 that the stripper was replaced as the most common harvesting machine. By 1920 however, nearly two-thirds of the wheat, oats and barley of Australia was harvested with 'Sunshine' stripper-harvesters.
Quick, Graeme & Wesley Buchele, 'The Grain Harvesters', American Society of Agricultural Engineers, St Joseph, Michigan, U.S.A., 1978, pp.119-121.
Simpson, Margaret & Phillip, 'Old Farm Machinery in Australia : A Fieldguide & Sourcebook', Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, NSW, 1991, pp.62-65.
Curator, Science, Technology & Industry