August 23: The Great Twine Shortage
If you were a North Dakota farmer in 1912, you were having a pretty good year. The harvest promised to be good, especially if you were growing wheat. And if you had one of those newfangled binding machines, the harvest would be a snap. The machines bound the wheat into bundles as soon as it was cut. Labor costs were cut dramatically, and it was just be a matter of taking the money to the bank.
But there always seems to be an unexpected snag for the farmer. In 1912, that snag turned out to be twine. When the wheat was bound by hand, farmers could resort to wire if twine was in short supply. But a mechanical binder was not so forgiving. It used twine and only twine. Manufacturers imported manila fiber from the Philippines and sisal from the Yucatan. These fibers had a reputation for producing superior twine that tied the tightest, didn’t tangle in the machines, and were naturally pest repellant. With more mechanical binding machines in use, the demand for twine exploded and manufacturers couldn’t turn it out fast enough. By July, farmers learned that supplies of twine fell far short of the need. It looked like farmers might have to resort to using wire to hand-bind their wheat.
The management of International Harvester realized that the success of their machines relied on twine. If farmers couldn’t rely on the new labor-saving machines, they might be discouraged from purchasing innovative farm machinery.
So, on this date in 1912, farmers breathed a sigh of relief upon learning that the International Harvester Company had arranged for a speedy delivery of fiber to Chicago cordage companies, which quickly spun it into the finished product and shipped it to farmers. After the fiber arrived in the United States on a Monday, the twine was in the fields and binding grain by Saturday. The great twine shortage was over, and North Dakota took pride in the greatest wheat harvest the state had ever seen.
Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher
- Bowbells Tribune. “Twine Shortage is Now Over.” Bowbells ND. 8/23/1912. Page 1.
- The Oakes Times. “Twine Shortage Over.” Oakes ND. 8/29/1912. Page 3.
- Ward County Independent. Champlin Implement Company Ad. Minot ND. 7/25/1912. Page 5.
- Scientific American. “The Illegal Twine Trade.” https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/anthropology-in-practice/the-illegal-trade-of-twine/ Accessed 7/22/2023.