The history of hay presses;
Hay presses are stationary hay balers. They were developed at the turn of the 20th century to make it feasible to move hay from the farm to city markets. farmers stored their hay in loose form but if it were compressed they could sell surplus hay off the farm to make some extra money. The railroads that crossed the country opened up distant markets to them. The hay press was the answer.
A book on the subject lists more than thirty manufactures of hay presses. There are a few familiar names such as John Deere, J.I.Case and international harvester but most have long gone out of business.
Unlike today's pick-up balers, a hay press sat in one spot like a threshing machine and the hay was brought to it. Most often it was set up in a barn beside the mow of loose hay. Sometimes it was set up in a hay field during that harvesting season. Most were owned by hay dealers who would buy a mow of hay from a farmer then bale the hay before transporting it to market.
Even though hay presses were a major improvement in hay transport, they were still very labour intensive. There would be one or more men forking the loose hay out of the mow. A second man would fork the hay into the press. Two others would tie the bales with wire, by hand. One or more men would weigh and stack the finished bales. Thus it would take a minimum of five, and possibly seven men to bale hay.
Most manufactures made several different sizes of balers with capacity claims for each. Typical bale sizes include 14"x16", 14"x18" and 17"x22". These were big bales by today's standards. A review or advertisements indicated capacities from 12 to 75 tons in a ten hour day. These advertisements are undoubtedly greatly exaggerated to sell their machine. In contrast a modern small square baler can bale about ten tons per hour or one hundred in a ten hour day. Round and large square balers can do many times more.
Power was provided in several ways. Many early hay presses were operated by a horse sweep, often uniquely designed for the baler. A stationary motor was often used and each size of press was advertised as to size of motor required to operate it. Some presses had an elongated frame with the motor mounted in front. Undoubtedly they were also powered by steam engines and later by farm tractors. One advertisement for a 1948 hay press even shows it being driven by a PTO shaft.
With the advent of a reliable pick-up balers about 1949 the days of the stationary hay press were numbered. Today they exist only in museums or rotting in fence corners