100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

The Metal Plow
Year of Invention: A.D. 100

What Is It? A metal device to dig furrows in the earth and to turn the top soil in
order to speed planting of a crop.

Who Invented It? Roman farmers (in Northern Italy)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

The metal plow transformed the world’s landscape and made mass agriculture possible. The rise of great cultures and empires was based on plentiful food supply, and that was based on the plow. Wheat, oats, rye, barley, and other grains could not have been successfully grown without a plow.

The plow changed the face of the world and the habitat for many of the world’s animal species. It was the plow that allowed agriculture to spread across fertile flat lands and push wolves, bears, tigers, and other wild beasts out to the wild and woolliest fringe places of the world.

Finally, the plow forever changed farming. For the first time a piece of farm equipment became a major investment, often shared cooperatively by three or four farm families. Because of the metal plow, the economics of farming shifted toward efficient use of capital equipment.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

The first plows were forked sticks early farmers dragged through the dirt. The Sumerians were using simple wooden, handheld plows by 5000 B.C. Such a simple device worked well enough in the dry, sandy soil of Middle Eastern countries. But it failed miserably in the heavier, wetter soils of central and northern Europe.


How Was the Plow Invented?

The Romans were avid students of agriculture. By 200 B.C. Roman farmers had advanced from sharpened wood stakes to sharpened wood blades as plows. A strap holding the blades was slung over the farmer’s shoulder. His legs provided the forward power to drive this plow through the rocky soil. His arms were the force that drove the plow blade

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