Esterly Broadcast Seeder - Seeding Device on large wagon wheels
Esterly Broadcast Seeder, Whitewater Historical Society, photo courtesy of Elizabeth Farrey.

Imagine toiling by hand in harsh weather conditions for days on end with no guarantee that your crop will actually produce enough for you to feed your family and make a profit. You are not even sure if your crops will survive to harvest. Life on the frontier in the mid-nineteenth was not easy for Wisconsin farmers. They were constantly looking for new and better ways to efficiently plant, cultivate, and harvest their fields. Enter George Esterly, a southern Wisconsin farmer and inventor who would help revolutionize farming practices across the nation.

Shortly after his arrival in the town of Whitewater, Wisconsin, in 1843, Esterly began manufacturing a variety of award-winning farming implements, including this broadcast seeder, a later model built in the 1870s at the height of the Esterly Manufacturing Company’s prosperity. Before such inventions, farmers had to scatter their seed by hand before covering it with a plow. The Esterly Broadcast Seeder combined the two processes by both scattering the seed and then covering it. This made the entire planting process faster and more efficient.

Portrait of George Esterly
George Esterly (1809-1893). Image courtesy of Whitewater Historical Society

Made primarily of wood (including the two large wheels) and metal tines designed to be able to carve into the clay-filled soil of southern Wisconsin, this model stands at about 4 feet high and 6 feet across. This particular broadcast seeder is currently housed at The Whitewater Historical Society Depot Museum.

Written by Elizabeth Farrey, June 2020.





Apps, Jerry. Wisconsin Agriculture: A History. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2015.

Cartwright, Carol. “A (Very) Brief History of Whitewater.” Whitewater Historical Society, 2014. Accessed 5 November 2019.

Cravath, Prosper, and Spencer S, Steele. Early Annals of Whitewater, 1837-1867. Edited by Albert Salisbury. Whitewater: Whitewater Federation of Women’s Clubs, 1906.

McCready, Bo. Early Whitewater Industry. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2008.

Wisconsin Historical Society. “How a Disaster Made Wisconsin the Dairy State.” Accessed 4 November 2019.

WisContext. “Before Dairy Ruled, Wheat Reigned in Wisconsin.” Accessed 4 November 2019.


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