Harvesting machine, 'Sunshine' stripper-harvester, horse-drawn, metal / timber, made by H.V. McKay Pty Ltd, Sunshine Harvester Works, Sunshine, Victoria, Australia, c.1909
The stripper-harvester is an Australian innovation for harvesting cereal crops devised in the late 1880s in Victoria. The machine combined the operations of the South Australian stripper with the irksome job of winnowing. It reduced the labour requirements on Australian farms and increased the efficiency of wheat production. At the same time construction of the railways enabled a massive expansion of the wheat growing areas which all contributed to Australia becoming a leader in cereal production.
The 'Sunshine' stripper-harvester is the most famous and successful of the harvesters produced up until that time. Although not invented by Hugh Victor McKay, he took the idea and developed it into an extremely successful machine. His entrepreneurial flair saw the machine sell some 10,000 units overseas by 1914.
The stripper-harvester was the first product made by McKay's company which by 1907 was called The Sunshine Harvester Co. This firm went on to produce a wide range of agricultural machines and implements under the 'Sun' label including the 'Sunflower' disc cultivator, 'Sundercut' stump jump plough, and 'Suntyne' seed drill, at their works near Melbourne. For years it was the largest factory in Australia, covering 30 acres and employing over 3,000 workers, and the largest agricultural manufacturer in the southern hemisphere.
The stripper-harvester certainly saved the farmer's family the dirty job of winnowing and lessened the labour requirements for the harvest, but could not cut any more acres in a day than the stripper. Despite the stripper-harvester's development occurring in the 1880s, its adoption in Australia was fairly slow and it was not until after 1910 that the stripper was replaced as the most common harvesting machine. By 1920 however, nearly two-thirds of the wheat, oats and barley of Australia was harvested with 'Sunshine' stripper-harvesters.
Quick, Graeme & Wesley Buchele, 'The Grain Harvesters', American Society of Agricultural Engineers, St Joseph, Michigan, U.S.A., 1978, pp.119-121.
Simpson, Margaret & Phillip, 'Old Farm Machinery in Australia : A Fieldguide & Sourcebook', Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, NSW, 1991, pp.62-65.
Curator, Science, Technology & Industry
This 'Sunshine' stripper-harvester was made in Victoria at H.V. McKay's Sunshine Harvester Works after 1909. As a teenager, Hugh Victor McKay (1865-1926) completed a prototype stripper-harvester in January 1881 on his father's property at Drummartin, and persuaded plough makers McCalman, Garde & Co., of North Melbourne, to manufacture it. Despite McKay's boast that these were the first successful stripper-harvesters on the market and that he had invented the first machine, James Morrow (of Nicholson & Morrow) had actually perfected, patented and exhibited a stripper-harvester a year earlier.
McKay's first harvesters were made under contract in Melbourne and Sandhurst (Bendigo), and from 1888 in Ballarat. In 1893, trading as The Harvester Co., McKay built an improved harvester and marketed it as the 'Sunshine' after the theme of an address given by a visiting American evangelist, Dr Thomas de Witt Talmage. Business expanded dramatically from twelve machines built in 1895 to a production of 500 in 1901. The machine required three to five horses to pull it and the typical sizes were 5 ft, 6 ft, 8 ft and 10ft comb widths.
During the 1902 drought, and with hundreds of spare stripper-harvesters in his factory, McKay exported the machines to Africa and South America. His overseas trade earnings soon made him the largest manufacturing exporter in the Commonwealth by 1904. In that year he acquired the well-equipped works of Mellor's defunct Braybrook Implement Co. at Braybrook Junction, Victoria. In 1907 Braybrook Junction was renamed 'Sunshine', as a model community of worker freeholders opposed to militant unionism. McKay drew inspiration from English company towns and provided extensive amenities for his workers.
It is believed this stripper-harvester operated in New South Wales and may have worked in the Dubbo area as it was purchased at an auction of the contents of the Merrilea Farm Museum, Dubbo, in 1984.