More than a century after the American Lawn Mower Co. began building manual grass-cutting machines, the muscle-powered mowers today represent the cutting edge of the environmental movement: They require no gasoline, emit no loud noise or pollution, and coincidentally provide a great way to stay in shape.
"When you start talking about what is good about the push mowers, it's hard to stop," says Robert E. Kersey, 75, president of the Muncie, Ind.-based company. "A push mower has so many advantages and no disadvantages I can think of."
Founded in 1895 by Kersey's grandfather Robert B. Kersey, the company today builds 400 mowers daily at its factory in Shelbyville, Ind. (pop. 17,951), making it the last manufacturer of reel push mowers in the United States.
At the end of World War II-when gasoline-powered mowers began roaring around yards-about 60 domestic manufacturers built manual mowers. By the 1980s, however, that number had dwindled to four, and only about 50,000 push mowers were sold.
The old-fashioned machines are making a quiet comeback, however, thanks to the current emphasis on energy conservation and personal health.
"I actually look forward to mowing my yard," says Richard Overton, 68, of South Bend, Ind., who bought his first manual mower in 1973. "It's very relaxing and so peaceful that it allows me time to think."
Overton mows his lawn today with the same motorless mower and has no plans to stop. "Just push it and it cuts," he says.
Originally located in Richmond, Ind., American Lawn Mower Co. moved to Muncie in 1901. In 1936, the company purchased Great States Corp., another reel mower manufacturer in Shelbyville, Ind. Today, American Lawn Mower continues to build reel push mowers at the Shelbyville plant under the American, Great States, Scotts and Craftsman labels.
About 350,000 manual mowers are sold annually in the United States, many of them built by the 50 employees of American Lawn Mower Co. and carried by hardware stores and lawn care centers from coast to coast.
"We ship lawn mowers all over the United States, Canada and Mexico, and some around the world," Kersey says. "It's a product that is used everywhere."
The average cost of a reel mower is about $100 and the machine seldom needs repairs other than blade sharpening every few years. Today's models weigh from 16 to 32 pounds, compared with the cast-iron mowers of yesteryear that ranged from 40 to 60 pounds.
"The mowers are much lighter than they used to be," Kersey says. "If you remember pushing one when you were a kid and it seemed heavy, it probably was. They were made out of cast-iron back then with a heavy wooden handle. Now it's lighter metal and plastic."
In addition to environmental and fitness concerns, smaller suburban yards are helping fuel the use of push mowers. "Most people with smaller lawns who try them, stay with them," Kersey says. "It's the green thing to do."
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