Meikle, Andrew

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b. 1719 Scotland
d. 27 November 1811
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Scottish millwright and inventor of the threshing machine.
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The son of the millwright James Meikle, who is credited with the introduction of the winnowing machine into Britain, Andrew Meikle followed in his father's footsteps. His inventive inclinations were first turned to developing his father's idea, and together with his own son George he built and patented a double-fan winnowing machine.
However, in the history of agricultural development Andrew Meikle is most famous for his invention of the threshing machine, patented in 1784. He had been presented with a model of a threshing mill designed by a Mr Ilderton of Northumberland, but after failing to make a full-scale machine work, he developed the concept further. He eventually built the first working threshing machine for a farmer called Stein at Kilbagio. The patent revolutionized farming practice because it displaced the back-breaking and soul-destroying labour of flailing the grain from the straw. The invention was of great value in Scotland and in northern England when the land was becoming underpopulated as a result of heavy industrialization, but it was bitterly opposed in the south of England until well into the nineteenth century. Although the introduction of the threshing machine led to the "Captain Swing" riots of the 1830s, in opposition to it, it shortly became universal.
Meikle's provisional patent in 1785 was a natural progression of earlier attempts by other millwrights to produce such a machine. The published patent is based on power provided by a horse engine, but these threshing machines were often driven by water-wheels or even by windmills. The corn stalks were introduced into the machine where they were fed between cast-iron rollers moving quite fast against each other to beat the grain out of the ears. The power source, whether animal, water or wind, had to cause the rollers to rotate at high speed to knock the grain out of the ears. While Meikle's machine was at first designed as a fixed barn machine powered by a water-wheel or by a horse wheel, later threshing machines became mobile and were part of the rig of an agricultural contractor.
In 1788 Meikle was awarded a patent for the invention of shuttered sails for windmills. This patent is part of the general description of the threshing machine, and whilst it was a practical application, it was superseded by the work of Thomas Cubitt.
At the turn of the century Meikle became a manufacturer of threshing machines, building appliances that combined the threshing and winnowing principles as well as the reciprocating "straw walkers" found in subsequent threshing machines and in conventional combine harvesters to the present day. However, he made little financial gain from his invention, and a public subscription organized by the President of the Board of Agriculture, Sir John Sinclair, raised £1,500 to support him towards the end of his life.
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Bibliography
1831, Threshing Machines in The Dictionary of Mechanical Sciences, Arts and Manufactures, London: Jamieson, Alexander.
7 March 1768, British patent no. 896, "Machine for dressing wheat, malt and other grain and for cleaning them from sand, dust and smut".
9 April 1788, British patent no. 1,645, "Machine which may be worked by cattle, wind, water or other power for the purpose of separating corn from the straw".
Further Reading
J.E.Handley, 1953, Scottish Farming in the 18th Century, and 1963, The Agricultural Revolution in Scotland (both place Meikle and his invention within their context).
G.Quick and W.Buchele, 1978, The Grain Harvesters, American Society of Agricultural Engineers (gives an account of the early development of harvesting and cereal treatment machinery).
KM / AP

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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