Cutting edge mowers

By Amy Mindell

Today’s high-tech lawn-cutting techniques are a far cry from the days when grass was sheared by roaming livestock or servants armed with scythes. 

Though purists may still prefer the old-school push reel mower, newer models like hands-free solar-powered mowing robots are cropping up.

Lawns flourished in Europe for centuries; but the patch of green with a picket fence didn’t represent the American dream until the late 19th century, which coincided with the first mass-produced lawn mower.

British engineer Edwin Budding invented the earliest mower in 1830. Budding’s reel mower used a series of blades arranged around a cylinder with a push handle patterned after a machine used in a cloth factory for shearing the nap on velvet. 

The first American reel mower debuted in 1870, when Indiana inventor Elwood McGuire developed a lightweight machine. It caught on quickly and by 1885, American manufacturers were building 50,000 lawn mowers a year.

After the relatively brief appearance of steam-powered machines, the gas-run mower hit the market in the early 20th century. Gas mowers remain most effective for dense or tall grass or very large lawns, but increasing awareness of air and noise pollution forced industry innovation. Stringent EPA smog rules led to a new era in lawn mowers, including the addition of plug-in mowers and battery-powered versions. 

Consumer Reports magazine named the Cub Cadet RZT S42, the “Tesla of mowers.” Powered by four 12-volt batteries (which recharge via a standard electrical outlet) this mower provides up to an hour of run time and uses the latest brushless motors. Like an electric car, this American-built mower is much quieter than a gas model. 

Similarly the 56-Volt EGO Power Plus makes mowing easier than ever. Simply charge the battery, pop it into the mower, push a button and go.

For those who would rather watch from the sidelines, robot mowers are catching on. Robomow, for example — a rechargeable, battery-powered robot that looks like the rugged older brother of the Roomba vacuum cleaner — is sold around the world by Friendly Robotics. Robomow runs on its own once you set up a virtual fence with a wire around the perimeter, flower beds and trees.

Leading Swedish mower producer Husqvarna offers a solar hybrid robotic version. The Automower Solar Hybrid is a fully robotic lawn mower partly powered by the sun that uses no fuel or oil. Designed to handle lawns of up to a half-acre, it requires considerably less energy than any conventional mower and is emissions-free.  

A version of this article first appeared in X-OLOGY Magazine, published by RDE Enterprises.