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"Snow Plough." Patent no. 18506, filed by Orange Jull, 1884. Left side view


Patent no. 18506. Filing year 1884.

"Snow Plough," Orange Jull.

It makes perfect sense that the rotary snowplough is a Canadian invention. The spinning fan-like contraption, first used on the railroad, eventually inspired the modern snow blower. The story of this snowplough is also the story of two inventors: one with the original vision, the other with the determination and clout to make it a reality.

J.W. Elliot, a dentist from Toronto, first conceived of a spinning snow shovel, which he patented in 1870 (no. 399). It consisted of a rotary engine driving a wheel mounted on the front of a train. A shaped steel collector on the tracks fed the snow to fan plates on the edge of the wheel, which threw the snow out of the top of the wheel casing. Elliot, however, was unable to interest the railways or any manufacturer in the concept, and returned to his dentistry practice.

The lack of interest is surprising, since there was in fact a demand for such a device. At the time, trains used a wedge plough to remove snow, but though fast, the plough tended to jump the tracks when faced with deep snowdrifts or avalanches. A few years after Elliot's patent, in 1884, an inventor named Orange Jull, from Orangeville, Ontario, patented an update to Elliot's invention. His main contribution was a cutting-blade positioned in front of the fan, mounted on the same shaft but spinning in the opposite direction, which chopped up the incoming snow for easier removal.

Jull convinced local manufacturers the Leslie Brothers to build a working model of the plough. After tests and modifications, the plough was installed on trains of the Chicago and North Western Railway in Iowa for the winter of 1883-84. The two-wheel system was criticized, however, since snow could get clogged between the cutting-blade and the fan. In response, Jull and the Leslie Brothers came up with a single-wheel version of the plough that eventually became standard for railways in the United States.

The harsh conditions of Canadian winters, however, demanded further modifications. In 1888 the Canadian Pacific Railway mounted rotary ploughs with ten-foot diameters on the front of eight locomotives. The fan wheel was given scoop-shaped flanges to improve its performance against the wet, packed snow of the Canadian Rockies. But the plough's progress could be slow, moving foot by foot through avalanche deposits, and was easily damaged by rocks and trees mixed in with the snow. Finally, a plough with a twelve-ton blade that could cut through trees four inches in diameter was developed in 1911, versions of which are still used by Canadian railways today.


Brown, J.J. Ideas in Exile: A History of Canadian Invention. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1967.

Nader, Ralph, Nadia Milleron, and Duff Conacher. Canada Firsts. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1992.

Nostbakken, Janis, and Jack Humphrey. The Canadian Inventions Book: Innovations, Discoveries and Firsts. Toronto: Greey de Pencier Books, 1976.