Abstract

For nearly sixty years, roughly 1880 to 1950, before the affordability and wide-spread use of combines, grain production in the American and Canadian Great Plains was dependent on harvesting with binders. Binders cut the grain stalks and then tied them into bundles with twine that farmhands later would gather into shocks to await threshing. The majority of the twine used was made from fiber from agave plants (sisal and henequen) from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The dependency on this Mexican commodity is illustrated by the fact that for the first two decades of the twentieth century, the United States and Canada consumed an estimated 230,000 tons of the fiber a year for the production of binder twine. Thus, a double agricultural dependency developed between these regions that this essay seeks to explore. Along with this international dependency, corporate, social, and labor issues are integral aspects of the grain/twine story. International Harvester of Chicago came to dominate the twine industry in the United States, but faced stiff competition from American and Canadian penitentiaries that developed their own twine mills using low-wage inmate labor. And in Mexico, wealthy henequen estate owners enslaved Yaqui Indians from Sonora to work in their fields in the Yucatan. "Dependent Harvests" seeks to introduce these themes and to cast them into their proper transnational and agricultural history perspectives.

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Notes

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1
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):
1