Crop Meter

In 1923, D. A. McCandliss, a federal statistician, invented the crop meter as a more reliable way to estimate cotton acreage in Mississippi. The new technology soon spread to other states. Crop meters were a vast improvement over earlier methods of crop estimation, such as counting fields or having farmers mail in estimates. The crop meter sat on a car dashboard and was connected to the speedometer shaft. As the car drove along the edge of a field, the meter measured the “frontage” of the field. Statisticians used these measurements to estimate total acreage. This meter is a “double bank” model. The two rows of keys allowed the driver to take measurements of fields on both sides of the road. The crop meter was later replaced by aerial observation.
Agricultural statistics provide valuable economic information. They are important not only to farmers but also to those in business and government. In 1912, the USDA began making crop forecasts before harvest, rather than only reporting production after the harvest. Crop forecasts were of particular interest to federal officials during the New Deal. Congress sought to regulate supply and demand for agricultural products. The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 established a subsidy program that paid farmers to take fields out of production. It included seven products designated as “basic crops”: corn, wheat, cotton, rice, peanuts, tobacco, and milk. Subsidies came from a tax on companies that processed farm products, but in 1936, the Supreme Court ruled the tax unconstitutional. As a result, the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 established a quota system and overproduction penalties.
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Statistical Reporting Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, through Harry C. Trelogan
See more items in
Work and Industry: Agriculture
American Enterprise
American Enterprise
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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