4 Henry Blair: Inventor of the Mechanical Corn and Cotton Planters

Amy Minervini

[The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is: 9.08]

Image of Henry Blair
Henry Blair courtesy of Amsterdam News

Henry Blair was born in 1807 in Maryland. Very little is known about his early life, but records show that he grew up to be a commercial farmer near his hometown of Glen Ross. Blair wanted to plant crops more efficiently and to increase productivity. 

He received his first patent in fall of 1834 for his design of a seed planter for sowing corn. An article from The Mechanics’ Magazine described the invention: 

It is described as a very simple and ingenious machine, which, as moved by a horse, opens the furrow, drops (at proper intervals, and in an exact and suitable quantity,) the corn, covers it, and levels the earth, so as, in fact, to plant the corn as rapidly as a horse can draw a plough over the ground. The inventor thinks it will save the labor of eight men. He is about to make some alterations in it to adapt it to the planting of cotton. (Black History in America)

This piece of machinery allowed the farmer to plant corn in a checkerboard fashion, which would help with weed control. 

Henry Blair's seed planter patent
US Patent 8447X: seed planter by Henry Blair, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1836, Blair received a second patent for his cotton planter. This machine did the following: “This invention functioned by splitting the ground with two shovel-like blades that were pulled along by a horse or other draft animal. A wheel-driven cylinder behind the blades deposited seed into the freshly plowed ground. The design helped to promote weed control while distributing seeds quickly and evenly” (Biography).

Because he could not read or write, Blair signed his patents with an X. Enslaved people were not able to register patents with the United States government, so it is assumed that Blair was a free man. He was only the second African American to get a patent by that point in time. Blair died in 1860.



Writing Prompts

Narrative: Imagine that you are a small animal living on the edge of Blair’s farm. Write about the new machine that appeared in the fields and how it might affect your travels and adventures across the farmland and the crops when they start spreading wide and growing tall. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3

Informative: Explain in your own words what the Farmers’ Almanac is, how long it’s been around, and why people use it, OR explain the process for registering a patent. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2

Persuasive: Persuade your audience that the two machines that Blair designed highly impacted the agriculture business/modern farming as we know it today. Explain how with specific reasons/examples. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1

Creative/Application: In addition to traditional farming, there are are various other types of farming, not limited to but including: aquaculture, urban, subsistence, and vertical as well as wind and solar farming. Create an advertisement for Farm Journal Magazine that includes an image of this ‘newer’ or less traditional type of farming that includes a tag line as well as at least 3 bullet points on its benefits.

Works Cited

Biography. “Henry Blair.” Biography, 2 Apr. 2014, www.biography.com/inventor/henry-blair. Accessed 31 May 2022.

Black History in America. “Henry Blair: African American Inventor.” Black History in America, www.myblackhistory.net/Henry_Blair.htm. Accessed 31 May 2022.

Boyd, Herb. Henry Blair Image. “Farmer and a Pioneering Inventor Henry Blair.” New York Amsterdam News, 1 Feb. 2018, amsterdamnews.com/news/2018/02/01/farmer-and-pioneering-inventor-henry-blair/. Accessed 31 May 2022.


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