MUSCATINE — Obscured by a half-century’s layers of dust, a copy of the Muscatine Journal from Aug. 19, 1948, ran part of a series called “Made in Muscatine.” The entry that day featured an invention designed in shop in Southend.
“Sweet potato growers of Muscatine Island, New Jersey and California are saving dollars and backaches because Warren A. Seright hated to cut vines,” the article read.
Seright, the operator of Seright Manufacturing Company, then at 1065 Hershey Ave., farmed land on the Muscatine Island back in the 1930s. One of his crops was sweet potato. Before harvest, the long, stringy mass of sweet potato vine has to be cut off.
“I was sure I would rather do any other kind of work than cut potato vines,” Seright told the Journal back in 1948. “There was then no machine on the market that would do the job, and I got mighty tired of cutting those vines with a hand knife. That was how I began wondering if I couldn’t rig up a machine that would do the work.”
On April 28, 1941, Seright filed for a patent to protect his idea for a sweet potato vine cutter. The machine was able to cut an acre of vines in an hour. By 1948, the vine cutter was in use across the United States from California and Washington State down to Texas and as far east as New Jersey. But it all began because one Muscatine man didn’t like cutting vines.
His grandson, Mike Seright, is Muscatine County’s fleet manager.
“(Warren Seright) was always looking for a solution to a problem,” Mike Seright said. “He was a blacksmith and machinist. Always looking for some other way to do things easier.”
When thinking about his grandfather’s legacy, Mike said he worries about the agricultural history getting lost in all the stories of Muscatine’s industrial past.
“I mean all the big manufacturers and the pearl button industry — Muscatine has pretty solid industrial history, but there is an awful lot of agricultural history here too,” Seright said. “It was a really big business.”
Sharing this story and others, Paul Carroll is presenting on the agricultural history of Muscatine Island at Second Saturday’s Old Dairy Barn open house. The open house will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 11. Along with the presentation, there will be an open house.
“There was just so much going on around the Muscatine Island,” Carroll said. “I am just hoping to present some of it. … It’s just so much fun how it all weaves together.”