Who Made The First Zero-Turn Mower?

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There’s been quite a hullabaloo on who created the first zero-turn mower. Both factual information and intriguing hearsay are thrown into the debate in a fit to quench the uncertainty about who really invented the wondrous grass-devouring machine. Before we settle this beef, it’s best to fully understand what a zero-turn mower is.

A zero-turn mower is a type of mowing machine that does not have a turning radius and can make a full 360-degree turn on a spot. For a clearer picture, you can take for instance the lawn tractors; to make a successful swirl you’d have to go back and forth a couple of times creating a radius of 180 degrees. In comparison, the zero-turn mower will stand firm on its rear wheels allowing the front wheels to pivot the machine on a spot efficiently saving time and energy. 

Some people insist that a true zero-turn mower must have four wheels or two antenna-like levers to be qualified as one– that is just ridiculous on a lighter note. The standard for a zero-turn machine is the ability to make a full turn on a spot, whether or not they possess six wheels, can be steered with boat paddles, or require the user to hover above the mower like a halo as they go. 

For this debate to be a success, the definition of a zero-turn mower will be the judge of who invented the machines first. 

who made the first zero turn mower

A Quick Time Travel To The Beginning 

  • Max B Swisher & The Ride King, 1949

The first-ever mention of a zero-turn mower stirred from southeast Johnson County, Missouri, in the year 1949 by a young man called Max Boothe Swisher just four years after he invented the self-propelled lawn mower.

 The mowing machine looked like a tricycle with a steering wheel that determined the direction of the front tire so that to make full zero-radius turns, all you had to do was place the tire horizontally towards the direction you aimed to go and the drive wheels would propel you towards it. Easy peasy. 

Swisher’s neighbors were blown away by this invention! Not only would they be able to mow the lawn a lot faster, but they also got to save time by making swift full turns. Even better? The mower had a seat for the user to sit on! That’s right– the first seat-and-ride lawn mower had to be towed by horses which is totally different from being able to drive and ride like you would with Max Swisher’s z-turn. 

Swisher’s zero-turn mowers soon became hotcakes; a wish come true for many residents who – just like him – hated mowing their lawns. Mr. Swisher named his invention the Ride King and was dubbed the first-ever commercially available zero-turn mower; as fitting like a glove.  After that, his company, Swisher Mowers & Machines continued their z-turn mower production which has exponentially evolved in the years past to suit the strict modern standards for an acceptable zero-turn mower. 

  • John Regier & The Hustler, 1963

It was a normal day for John Reiger at Hesston Corporation where he worked. They manufactured mainly agricultural equipment – both parts and motorized – that were needful for farm use or anything relating to such. This time around, a swather had just been manufactured and Reiger was simply fascinated by it, especially by the counter-rotation of which the swather used to function. He immediately had the idea of implementing this strategy on a lawn mower so that the wheels work independently (counter-rotate) to award a zero-turn radius. 

Also, his wife who loathed mowing even more than he did, could hopefully detest mowing less for his peace of mind.

So, John Reiger got to serious work and in 1963, introduced a mowing machine with four wheels, a seat, and very quirky-looking levers that seemed to reach for the sky! The invention was quite a fascinating one, but it rubbed off an unlikely image on the mass. People at that time were used to steering wheels, and levers, they thought, couldn’t simply steer as well. Reiger, a man of many ideas, had yet another brilliant one; in 1964 he introduced his invention to Excel Industries and soon John Reiger’s Zero-Turn mowers were on the market. He named it The Hustler and considering his trip to victory, there couldn’t be a better name for his invention. 

In present times, the Hustler is one of the most trusted brands of zero-turn mowers out there. 

Who Really Invented Z-Turns: Max B Swisher Or John Reiger?

who invented the first zero turn mower

Let’s thrash this beef once and for all! Max Boothe Swisher invented his zero-turn mower in 1949, while John Regier invented his version in 1963. The dates plainly prove that Max B Swisher is the first-ever inventor of the zero-turn mower.

Why Are There Two Inventors For Zero-Turn Mowers?

 After a lot of pondering, I finally came up with a logical reason for this. The best image of a zero-turn mower is with the significant twin levers — not the steering wheel — and four tires. Even though today we have a lot of steering wheel and joystick models or z-turns with three wheels rummaging the lawns of the average residential yard, it’s a little understandable why some might disagree that Max Swisher’s three-wheeled z-turn isn’t the first of its kind. However, whatever the unique characteristics may be, as long as the mower can turn on a dime, therefore, is a zero-turn mower no matter how disagreers will argue this fact. 

Did John Reiger Spoof Max Swisher’s Invention? 

I almost believed the same idea when I couldn’t understand why John Reiger was the inventor and not Max Swisher since the timelines are greatly different! Reiger didn’t mimic Swisher’s invention. If you look closely enough, you will see that although the inventors had the same intentions, the pathways that led to the general outcome were distinctly different. There was no copying or stealing of anything; Max Swisher and John Reiger are two great zero-turn mower inventors well deserving of the recognition they get today. 

I Therefore Conclude This Case 

Although Max B Swisher is the true inventor of zero-turn mowers, he didn’t manufacture the most maneuverable zero-turn mower out there— John Reiger did. The twin levers are exceptionally good maneuvering beasts as they’re swifter and more sensitive. If I had to choose between The Ride King and The Hustler, the Hustler would be my pick.

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EL Mehdi (Medi), the founder and voice behind Desired Lawn Mower. He is a riding mower enthusiast who enjoys spending more time discussing and covering various ride-on mower topics. He has been active in the industry for years comparing models of different ZTR and lawn tractor brands.