A project by
Mark Maio.
Page 1/5.

In 1842, Joseph Dart, a Buffalo grain merchant, built the world's first grain elevator in a slip off the Buffalo River. Dart came up with the idea of unloading grain ships by means of an endless belt of buckets, a system already used inside mills for moving about grain and flour. Dart's genius was in placing the belt inside a "marine leg" which would project out of a grain warehouse and be lowered into a ship's hold to scoop up the grain.

Dart's "elevator," which he described as substituting modern ingenuity for the "backs of Irishmen," was small but highly successful, and it paved the way for later elevator technology that could have unloaded an 1840s lake boat in less than seven minutes, a process that at the time, using bushel baskets, sacks, and block and tackle, could take seven days.

In 1864, another important mechanical advancement was made in the quest to unload grain more economically. That year a steam shovel was patented, a kind of drag line, to be used in directing grain to the hungry buckets.


The shovel was a large metal scoop operated off of the grain elevator's power supply through a complicated system of ropes, which were rigged in the hold of the ship and operated by men who became known as "grain scoopers."

The elevator and power shovel contributed greatly to reducing the cost of shipping wheat from the farms in the Midwest to the markets of the east.

The conditions under which the grain scoopers worked at the turn of the century were characterized by irregularity of employment, low wages, and the saloon-boss system. The employment was largely seasonal, during the mid-April to mid-November shipping season. Even during those seven months, the actual periods of work were irregular, dependent on the often unpredictable arrival of particular ships.