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Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • VOLUNTEER FOR VICTORY

A Fistful of Daisies: 1930s

A Fistful of Daisies: 1930s

The caption label has fallen off this Harris & Ewing glass negative, so we can invent our own: "Circa 1930s. Possibly notable lady trims lawn in or around Washington, D.C., with Ajax Ball Bearing reel mower." View full size.

 

Someone's Aunt

I don't know who the lady is but I think that I would like her. She looks so much like any of my old Aunties when I was only a few years old in the early 40s. The ones that baked peanut butter cookies, chocolate cake, made real lemonade, and always had a hug when it was needed. We would sit in the porch swing in the evening and watch the lightning bugs during the summer. Sometimes we might even have homemade ice cream.

A "Reel" Character Builder

As a boy I also used one of those all metal push mowers until my Dad puchased a top of the line "Silent Scotts" push mower with a grass catcher. What an improvement! I thought I died and went to heaven. I saw one at a yard sale a few years back and promptly bought it. It's a still great mower to have in reserve.
When I was old enough I graduated to a power reel mower exactly like the one mentioned previously. It did not have a single safety feature, but I still managed to keep all my fingers and toes. Go figure.

If she swore at all, she'd swear by her lawn mower

"Beloved contralto Angelina Wilhelmina Kristall-Zertrümmern at home in her garden. Her neighbors often enjoy an impromptu performance, as Madame keeps her diaphragm fit by vocalising as she pushes her lawn mower."

The Rolls Royce of Push Mowers

My parents moved into their first new house in Detroit in the winter of 1952. The following spring they seeded their new lawn. My Dad splurged for a top of the line Montgomery Ward push mower with a grass catcher. It was white, sported hub caps on the rubber rimmed wheels and purred like a kitten. It had a ball bearing clutch assembly in the wheels so you could pump it back and forth and really get the 5 blades spinning. Other neighbors were still using the old all steel mowers like the one in this post. I longed for the day when I could use the mower. It was my first lesson in "be careful what you wish for". I was soon shackled to the mower for several years. I accepted my fate and soon appreciated how quick the mower was if the grass needed a light trim without the catcher. Long grass which needed the catcher was another story. Back in those days most hardware stores sharpened push mower blades for a few dollars. There was a fixed straight blade on the bottom of the mower and each of the five movable curved blades swept the fixed blade similar to how scissors cut. A special jig was needed to sharpen the curved blades. The attached picture of me and my inherited mower was taken in 1957 with my Brownie Hawkeye box camera by Kodak. It used size 620 film. Is surprising how such details stick with you.

Husband says:

"I don't know why she complains, I bought her an Ajax."

I agree with Olde Buck

Boy did I hate to cut grass with one of those.

Woe be it to the person who let the grass get too long before they cut it. I actually saw a new one of these on sale at Home Depot the other day, I quickly ran the other way.

The first power mower I can remember in the neighborhood was a reel mower similar to this with a Briggs & Stratton engine on top of it with a belt drive to the wheels.

Alive and still kicking

'Push reel mowers' are still sold today. I used one as a kid in the 1980s, and being a proper hipster, bought one when I owned my first home, studying the cutting edge features in reel mower technology and importing an ultra-light model from Germany. But being a proper hipster, I found I didn't like breaking a sweat and just wasn't up to the task like elderly iron ladies of the roaring twenties.

Modern Choices

Modern reel mowers are easy to push but cheat by skipping over hard-to-cut grass, leaving uncut areas.

The old reel mowers didn't skip anything. The wheels just locked up in hard-to-cut grass.

I cut my acre of lawn with an Austrian scythe, which is easy with any kind of grass, long or short, but it has to be a hobby.

I'm not sure about the dressiness of this

I have to agree with scoobylou. This is staged.

[Photos from Harris & Ewing, a professional photographic studio, aren't casual family album snapshots, but work contracted for by clients, who could include businesses, advertising agencies, newspapers as well as individuals. - tterrace]

Oh What Fun

Next time my grandson complains about having to cut the yard with the riding lawn mower, I will just show him this photo. I spent a good bit of my youth pushing one around just like this.

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Mow

Okay, she has a place to mow, but why so dressed up? Trying to get it mowed before church?

[Once upon a time, in the dim, distant past, this would not have been considered especially "dressed up." -Dave]

I've got a better caption

"An ancient instrument used to torment young boys on glorious summer afternoons."*

*In case you haven't guessed, I was one of those boys.

 
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Shorpy.com | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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