Short-Handled Hoe, 1950s and 1960s

Migrant farm workers had to use the short-handled hoe or el cortito for thinning and weeding. Because it required them to stoop during long hours in the fields, the hoe became a symbol of the exploitive working conditions. Campaigns by the United Farm Workers and others helped outlaw use of the hoe in 1975.
American agriculture’s dependence on Mexican labor has always been a source of great conflict and great opportunity for field workers and the agriculture industry. In the U.S., agricultural labor was overwhelmingly Mexican and Mexican American. Issues of legal status, workers rights, and use of domestic workers are issues the unions, agricultural producers, and the federal government have been struggling with since the 1920’s.
Physical Description
iron (overall: blade material)
wood (overall: handle material)
iron (overall: handle material)
overall: 12.3 cm x 15.3 cm x 42 cm; 4 13/16 in x 6 in x 16 9/16 in
blade: 9.2 cm x 15.3 cm; 3 5/8 in x 6 in
handle: iron portion: 20.3 cm; 8 in
handle: wooden portion: 21.7 cm; 8 9/16 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Work and Industry: Agriculture
Cultures & Communities
FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000
Food: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History


The short handle hoe is common to other continents. My analysis is that the commonness in the size of the handle is out of necessity to thin excess the crops and sort the weeds with the free hand as one weeds with the other.
Hello, This article-link below may to some extent help you understand the use of the Short-Handled Hoe as per comments by Rodrigo Silva. I am not a Farmer, but have done extensive gardening, and actually made myself a Short-Handled Hoe which was unavailable for sale in Southern California when I lived and worked there. For me, it worked very well for close-in cultivation in crowded flower-gardens without problem; although I have never been able to work bent over (serious pain), and have to work on my knees, which I can do all day long. Frankly, I conjecture that the Farm-Owners simply wanted to save money by using short handles. This sound a little absurd, but that's my opinion.
I am unable to find any information as to why the short handed hoe was ever used. Its reduced size does not make sense as an effective tool. I hope you can provide me with some of the history of how the "cortito" became the tool of choice for many agricultural workers. Thank you!

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