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Headlie Shipard Taylor (1883–1957)

by M. L. Hallett

This article was published:

Headlie Shipard Taylor (1883-1957), by unknown photographer, 1930

Headlie Shipard Taylor (1883-1957), by unknown photographer, 1930

Museum Victoria, MM 18080

Headlie Shipard Taylor (1883-1957), agricultural machinery designer, was born on 7 July 1883 at Bungowannah, New South Wales, son of native-born parents Phillip Culling Taylor, farmer, and his wife Mary Jane, née Shipard. Headlie attended school at Henty, but left aged 14 to work on his parents' wheat and sheep farm at Emerald Hill.

Convinced that farm machinery could be improved, in 1910 Taylor lodged his first patent, an improvement for stripper harvesters. Next year he set out to design a harvester which would handle storm-damaged crops better than the stripper harvester. With family support, working long shifts and teaching himself engineering, he produced his first machine for the 1911-12 harvest. Disappointed with it, he constructed a successful second machine and patented his design in October 1913. Its key features were a long-fingered comb which combined with a reciprocating knife and twin spirals to convey the cut crop from the comb to the elevators. In 1914 Taylor demonstrated a third machine at the Henty show. Interested farmers offered capital to produce it, but he preferred that an existing Australian manufacturer undertake its production.

At Taylor's invitation, the agricultural machinery manufacturer H. V. McKay saw the header in action and was so impressed that he negotiated for the patent rights and engaged Taylor to supervise production of the header at his works from 6 April 1916. Output grew rapidly: 6 machines in 1916, 143 in 1917, 325 in 1918. During 1920, when widespread storms flattened crops, the factory worked day and night to produce 1024 machines equipped with special 'crop lifters'. By the end of the decade, headers outsold stripper harvesters. The first commercial harvester to combine the reciprocating knife with the Australian stripping-comb, Taylor's header provided the harvesting capacity needed in the broadacre dry farms of the wheat belt.

He also produced a string of other innovations: crop lifters (1917), pick-up attachments enabling the header to harvest field peas (1919), the 'Sunshine' engine-functioned header (1922), the 'Sunshine' auto-header (1924), a pick-up front for the auto-header (1929), the 'Sunshine' TD stripper harvester (1934), the 'Sunprong' pasture renovator (1936), power take-off mechanisms for the header (1938), a comb cleaner for the header and for stripper harvesters (1943), a cutter bar for pick-up fronts (1943) and a redesigned auto-header (1953). In World War II he designed three machines to meet the pressing need for equipment to harvest flax.

The 'Sunshine' auto-header—the first self-propelled harvester to be manufactured in large numbers—stood out as Taylor's second major achievement. Capable of harvesting at 3.5 miles (5.6 km) per hour, it had a capacity of 4 acres (1.6 ha) per hour or more. In 1929 Taylor set up a factory in Canada to make auto-headers for the North American market. Production proceeded until the merger of McKay and Massey Harris interests in 1930. In all, 932 auto-headers were produced for Australian and overseas markets.

On 26 March 1918 Headlie Taylor had married Ruby Maud Howard in the Baptist Church at Goombarganah, New South Wales. In 1954 he retired from his position as superintendent of agricultural machinery works at H. V. McKay Massey Harris Pty Ltd.

Widely respected in the Henty and Sunshine communities, he was a director of the Sunshine Employees' Trust Ltd and a member of the council of the Sunshine Technical School. Survived by his wife, three sons and two daughters, he died at Sunshine on 22 March 1957 and was cremated. His estate was valued for probate at £54,649.

Select Bibliography

  • From Early Beginnings, Henty, N.S.W., Home of the Header (Henty, NSW, 1986)
  • F. Wheelhouse, Digging Stick to Rotary Hoe (Adel, 1972)
  • M. Newton, Ancestry from 1590 (priv pub, Henty, NSW, 1974)
  • Australasian Manufacturer, 19 Jan 1929, p 29
  • Implement and Machinery Review, 1 Mar 1929, p 1163
  • Sunshine Review, 5, no 3, Dec 1948, p 11
  • Massey-Ferguson Review, no 86, Dec 1956, p 8
  • Wimmera Star, 5 Feb 1925
  • Australian patent and patent application record 4394/05, 17021/10, 10989/13, 2208/16, 15959/24, 21123/24 (Patents Office, Canberra)
  • private information.

Citation details

M. L. Hallett, 'Taylor, Headlie Shipard (1883–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 27 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Headlie Shipard Taylor (1883-1957), by unknown photographer, 1930

Headlie Shipard Taylor (1883-1957), by unknown photographer, 1930

Museum Victoria, MM 18080