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Konrad von Meyenburg

plaatje Konrad Victor von Meyenburg-Martin was born 1870 in Dresden, Germany, where his father Victor von Meyenburg-von May worked as a mechanical engineer, but he was raised and educated in Switzerland. He always stated that he had inherited his technical skills, as his great-grandfather constructed steam engines and railroad locomotives around 1800, without any academical education. Konrad's grandfather worked as a constructor with the Escher-Wyss company in Zürich, Switzerland. Still in his school period, Konrad on Meyenburg fitted his bicycle with a small steam engine. Later he studied at the ETH (electro-technical high school) to become a machinery-constructing engineer. At the 1893 Chicago World Exhibition he first made aquintance to American technicians. For some time he worked in Boston (USA), later with Escher-Wyss in Zürich.

The picture shows technician Max Bloch (left) and inventor Konrad von Meyenburg observing the results of a 1912 test cultivator, while employee August Grunder measures it's working depth.

Around that time he met Gottlieb König, who was working on his "machine for ploughless tilling". The machine existed of a rotating cilinder with attached long choppers, which were meant to loosen the soil. Together they developed the "König Landautomobil" until it could be practically used. However, Konrad von Meyenburg felt that there were several problems with König's swinging choppers. During intensive studies he developed spring mounted tines made from 5 mm thick steel wire. These elastic tools resulted in a good crumbly soil structure, and were able to move around obstructions (stones, tree roots) without being damaged. No one was able to tell Von Meyenburg which was the soil's optimal crumbling structure. He talked to scientific and practical agricultural institutes in Switzerland, Germany, France, England and the USA, and also to the Russian institutes in Petersburg and Moscow, in an attempt to get exact details of the optimal soil structure.

plaatje In 1909, he patented the spring mounted tines. He was able to raise interest for his ideas with young August Grunder, and together they undertook intensive tests in order to find the optimal shape for the tines. Simultaneously they started construction of a tiller tractor, which was patented in 1910 under the name "Motorwagen für landwirtschaftliche Arbeiten" (engine vehicle for agricultural labour). Both the tractor and the various forms of spring tines were made in an abandoned building in Zürich, Switzerland. In August 1910 the tractor was shown to the home and foreign public at field demonstrations (see picture). This resulted in exhaustive descriptions in agricultural magazines.

On 8th February 1911 the "Patentverwertungsgesellschaft Motorkultur AG" was formed, based at the Dornacherstrasse 160 in Basel. Purpose of the company was "to perfect and cash von Meyenburg's inventions, particularly his farm machinery with rotating elastic tilling tools". Besides Konrad von Meyenburg and August Grunder, this company was led by several other technicians and financers.

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August Grunder constructed the second protoype tiller tractor in Basel, in 1911 (see picture). The 1320 kg weighing tractor was powered by a 2 cilinder Gray engine, rated at 10-12 hp when running on petrol or paraffin. The tractor had 5 gears, ranging from 0.5 up to 6 km/h, it's steering system allowed turning around one of the rear wheels, providing a turning radius of 2 m. The burls on the rear wheels were necessary to pull the drilling machine behind the tiller.

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Consequently, various test models were constructed:
This 1912 prototype weighed 2000 kg and was driven by a 25 hp 3 clinder Gray water cooled petrol engine. The strengthened 3 speed gearbox enabled speeds between 1.2 and 6 km/h. This model was the basis for the Siemens Gutsfräse. Note that this same tractor is on my Siemens four wheel tractor models page, only the Swiss inventors have stept aside.

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This 1912 prototype was front wheel driven, only one was made as tests proved unsuccesful.

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1913 prototype, powered by a 4 cilinder Ballot engine.

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This lighter and improved version of the 1913 protype model was shown and demonstrated at the 1913 DLG Show in Strassburg (now France). It had a 10 hp twin cilinder Gray (USA) engine.

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The 1914 model was fitted with an improved rotary tiller, as well as a 4 cilinder paraffin engine, rated at 30 hp at 800 rpm. The tractor had 4 gears. Like with it's predecessors, the drive wheels were 150 cm in diameter and 15 cm wide. The front wheels had a 60 cm diameter and 10 cm width.

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This smaller, other 1914 prototype was the first with centrally driven tiller, and was designed with the smaller farmers and market gardeners in mind. The front wheel had a suspension, but was directly steered, without a steering wheel or gears. Von Meyenburg describes a lot of trouble occured while testing this small machine: "The cultivator has done a lot of nice work in in the Ruchfeld (near Basel). We were, however, unsuccesful in increasing the life time of the wormwheel drive, despite the use of torpedo-bronce and breaking pins. The steel worm wheel which Maag recommended, wore out within several hours of work."


The 1912-1914 prototype models were taken on long demonstration tours, into Germany, France, England and the USA. As a result, several companies obtained a manufacturing license. Remember that the Motorkultur AG itself has never had the intention to commercially manufacture and sell machinery itself. The Siemens-Schukert-Werke GmbH in Siemensstadt near Berlin (Germany) built their first tiller tractor in 1912, under supervision of Konrad von Meyenburg and professor Holldack. Siemens bought the patent rights for Germany, Austria, Scandinavia and the Balkan countries. Siemens being an electrotechnical company, also electro-driven models were made and tested. Von Meyenburg's invention was also adopted by Allis-Chalmers (USA), SIMAR (Switzerland) and SOMUA (France).


All those large tiller tractors suffered from the disadvantage of their heavy weight. Also their high price contributed to their quick disappearance from the fields. Besides, the more universal farm tractor was gaining terrain. Later, the lighter and smaller two wheeled rotary cultivators gained much more succes, as they furfilled much better Konrad von Meyenburg's ideals "to cultivate the fields without causing track damage" and "to minimize the use of wheels on the field". These machines, firstly built by August Grunder, and later also by SIMAR, SOMUA, Siemens-Schuckert (later Bungartz), were made according to Von Meyenburg's principles.


Konrad von Meyenburg was very concerned about the soil's correct cruble structure, and for that purpose spent a lot of time at the Gut Gieshof, the 500 ha Siemens test farm near Neubarnim in the Oderbruch (Germany), together with professor Holldack. In intensive worldwide coorporation he tried to find optimal soil conditions. Test results pointed out that correct soil preparation brings oxigen and nitrogen into the soil, and the formed CO2 which the plants need, help improve better harvest. In over 350 publications Von Meyenburg spread his ideas and theories, and with speeches in Amiens, Paris, Kiel, Basel, Liège and Berlin he tried to raise interest with his audiences.

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Optimal soil crumbling Very early tine form,
made of 5 mm steel wire
Later and definitive form of tines

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On October 15, 1936 Konrad von Meyenburg was granted the German patent no. 713956. It concerned a small rotary cultivator without propulsion wheels, where the engine was mounted above the cultivator for optimal balance, as well as in order to avoid that the cultivator pushed itself out of the soil while working. Wheels could be fitted around the cultivator tools to facilitate transport, even a small trailer could be pulled, and an optional belt pulley could be fitted to drive machinery.
I remember that the company of Solo produced tillers like this one, but I do not know if they were based on the Von Meyenburg patent.


Konrad von Meyenburg had an agriculture in mind, which was able to feed humanity and thus to overcome hunger. His last message was: "Do we treat the soil correctly?" For his indefatigable investagations and purposes, he was given a honorary membership of the German Max-Eyth-institute. From 1936 the Patentverwertunggesellschaft Motorkultur AG was solely owned by Konrad von Meyenburg and his sons Erik and Harald, until Konrad von Meyenburg died in 1952. The company was dissolved on 10th July 1958.

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Grunder SIMAR SOMUA Allis-Chalmers Siemens


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