In August, it’s sweet corn season in Minnesota (field corn season comes in a few months after a frost when the corn is ripe and dry). Back in the 1800s, farmers would have harvested corn (sweet and field) by hand.
Corn husk fingers and gloves first appeared around the 1870s where they remained a consistent tool for many farmers until the mid-1900s.
Although many corn-picking machines had been invented by the early 1900s, many farmers did not possess this high-tech equipment and still picked corn by hand. As late as the 1940s most corn picking in the Midwest was done by hand. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that machines were commonly used.
The corn husking fingers (as shown in Gammelgården’s collection) or gloves (which were worn like gloves and had a metal piece on the palm of the hand) helped farmers husk quickly since the sharp hook easily cut the cob from the husk.
Farmers used this tool to remove the husk (the leafy, outer material) from corn. With the metal spikes, workers slit the husk which then could be removed in a quick motion. This process – called husking – was done one ear at a time.
The last four images below are from the Kansas Historical Society’s presentation “Corn Picking Long Ago” which shows how a metal corn husker was used. For more images and information about the early harvest of corn, visit https://www.kshs.org/teachers/trunks/pdfs/set_pwpt_corn.pdf