Pushing lawn mowers towards a greener future

When lawns became a thing centuries ago, sheep and scythes kept the grass trimmed and tidy. Then the battle of the blades began in 1830 when British inventor Edwin Budding patented his reel mower, which used multiple blades to slice grass like scissors against a stationary cutting edge.

Today, high-tech robots can cut grass down to size under the watchful eyes of smartphone users. Most people, however, are still taming their jungles themselves, and a growing number are turning to greener, gas-free methods.

“We have seen customer interest in cordless lawn mowers grow year on year,” says The Home Depot Canada‘s Milgo Noor, noting that new products and technologies are constantly being added to meet demands.

Inventor Budding’s push reel mower, constructed of wrought iron, was originally used on sports fields, cemeteries and extensive gardens. Make it expensive, because in the beginning lawns were a sign of wealth and status.

On this side of the pond, mechanical grass cutting evolved more slowly, with the first U.S. patent issued in 1868. A Victorian neighborhood in Toronto used its front yards to grow cabbages after families Irish women fled famine-ravaged Ireland in the 1840s – hence the name ‘Cabbagetown’.

In the mid-19th century, horses wearing soft leather boots to protect delicate greenery were used to pull mowers, according to Briggs & Stratton, creators of a lightweight aluminum engine in the 1950s.

Power was followed by steam and then human-powered machines which were advertised as easy enough for young women to use. Advertisements for a model from the 1870s and 80s feature a young woman pushing “the most beautiful and perfect lawnmower in the world”.

By the late 1800s electric clippers had arrived but were melted down for their metal during World War II half a century later.

British inventor Edwin Budding patented his reel mower in 1830. It used multiple blades to slice grass like scissors against a stationary cutting edge.

Post-war, the appearance of the suburban lawn spurred the development of all types of mowers, which now include gas-powered, corded (electrical outlet), cordless (battery-powered), manual, and horse-powered models. Some are self-propelled while others require more muscle power. While reel mowers use multiple blades, rotary mowers use a blade that rotates at high speed on a vertical axis, relying on impact to cut the grass.

Imagine the terror that caused the quarter-inch Szalinski children in the 1989 film “Honey, I reduced the childrenas a monstrous mower swooped down on them in their own backyard. They were the unwitting victims of their father’s (Rick Moranis) invention gone wrong.

Noisy gas-powered machines are not suitable for lawn owners who care about the health of people and the planet. A Swedish study found that using a petrol lawnmower for an hour leaves the same carbon footprint as driving a 160 km car journey.

Electric lawn mowers operate quietly, save fuel and maintenance costs and, thanks to the latest innovation, now offer many of the same features as gas-powered models,” says Noor, Merchandising Assistant for Outdoor Power at The Home Depot Canada.

Robert Oliveri as Nick Szalinski who built 'Snapper' the robot mower that terrorized miniaturized youths in the 1989 film

Corded models with 6 to 12 amp motors are fine for smaller areas, but a cordless battery-powered model will provide more mobility on larger lawns, she says.

Many brands of electric mowers are now on the market, including RYOBI, Greenworks, EGO, Toro, and Black+Decker. RYOBI alone makes several versions, from a lightweight 18V, 13-inch, walk-behind model to 48V riding mowers that run for up to two hours.

With a price tag of $898, HP 40V from RYOBI The cordless mower in its Whisper series is “really popular” with Home Depot customers, according to Noor. “These mowers are up to 85% quieter than gasoline and give you all the power without the noise.”

Choosing a lawn mower – whether electric, gas-powered or manual – starts with personal preference. But generally, a manual or electric mower is fine for less than a quarter acre, while high-powered gas or electric machines are needed for larger lawns and rough terrain, says Noor.

Unless, of course, sheep are your option.


Carola Vyhnak is a Cobourg-based writer who covers personal finance, home and real estate. She is a collaborator of the Star. Contact her by email: [email protected]

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