Ensilage Harvester

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Winning Nomination

Adolph Ronning was an inventor who made his impact in several areas by his early vision in mechanization. His field ensilage harvester reduced labor by 50% or more and eventually received universal acceptance by industry. In the construction industry, Adolph built and demonstrated at the Minnesota State Fair, about 1924, the Ronning Road Planer. This was the beginning of the power road grader used throughout the world. Adolph’s contribution to World War II efforts was also an improvement in mechanization. His wobble-stick control was used in the M46 General Patton tank, for which he received a citation for valuable contributions to the war effort—one of only 20 issued. These are only a few of his inventions—he had hundreds of patents issued to him—but these examples best demonstrate the impact his work had locally and on a national and world stage.
~Arnold Zempel, Montevideo, MN



(patented 1915 by Adolph Ronning)

Streamlining farm work

In many ways, Adolph Ronning was a typical Minnesota farm boy. One of nine children, he grew up on a farm near Boyd, in Lac qui Parle County, and graduated from Dawson High School in 1912. He took violin lessons in school, tinkered with his family's farm equipment, and used some of his free time to earn extra money.

But, unlike many rural teens, Ronning wasn't saving up for a set of wheels or a bus ticket to the big city. His earnings funded a patent application for his ensilage harvester, which he had started designing at age seven. He was nineteen years old when he and his brother Andrean filed the patent, and it was the first of dozens he was to receive throughout his life, all with the goal of making mechanical work easier and more efficient.

The ensilage harvester improved on standard practices for harvesting and storing crops. Its basic design, largely unmodified, is still used by agricultural implement companies worldwide. The Ronnings' machine cuts corn, grinds it into silage, and stores it in a side- or rear-drawn wagon as the field is harvested. When the wagon is full, it is detached from the harvester and pulled to a silo, where a mechanism propels the silage up and into the silo. Meanwhile, a second wagon is attached to the harvester so that the cutting and grinding can continue.

Ronning soon moved to Minneapolis, where he founded a company to make and sell ensilage harvesters and other machines, including a power road grader. In 1925, he sold his business to International American Harvester Company of Minneapolis. The following year, he sold some of his tractor patents to International Harvester, including one for what the company dubbed the "Farmall System of Horseless Farming." After that, he later recalled, "I had more time to myself." His inventiveness was seemingly boundless, and for a fifty-year period, beginning in 1913, Ronning had a continuous succession of patents pending. His brainstorms ranged from headlight dimmers to tractor-powered golf course mowers (sold to Toro Corporation) to a stick power control for army tanks.

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