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The History of the Weed Eater and How it Became the "String Trimmer"

by Gene Caballero | August 12, 2022

Since the first lawn, man has been on his toes to maintain it. Did you know that before the weed eater, people had to clip the edges of their lawn with grass shears?

Not much unlike the shears used to prune bushes. Like these:

Original grass pruing sheers for lawns

Could you imagine?!

And while the lawn mower has been around for well over 100 years, the weed eater or string trimmer is a much more recent invention

But how was the invention made and how has it progressed since the first weed eater?

Well, keep reading to find out the interesting history of the weed eater. The original weed eater advertisment

The Original Weed Eater Origin Story

Here’s the deal, like all inventions the weed eater required inspiration. The story behind the original weed eater is an interesting one. And it all centers around the inventor George Ballas of Texas

You see, one day one of Ballas’s employee was trimming the edges of a lawn with a pair of grass-cutting shears when suddenly he was bitten by a snake. That was when Ballas began to realize there had to be a better way.

As the story goes it wasn’t until he was sitting in a car wash in 1972 that inspiration struck. Upon seeing the bristles which washed the sides of his car, he had an idea. 

He raced home and grabbed a popcorn can and poked holes in it. And in those holes, he placed fishing line. Upon attaching it to his edger, he found that it cut grass like a charm. 

George Ballas holds the first weedeater prototype

The First Weed Eater- Fishing For a Better Lawn Care Solution 

This is crazy but, the first weed eaters used fishing line as string

These original weed eaters were manufactured by Ballas under the brand name Weed Eater, which is what the name derives from.

The First Electric Weed Eater

The first model of electric the “Clippie” was the original Weed Eater was an electric-powered machine

The Clippie sold for $29.95 in 1977 and weighed 2 pounds. Soon after the bigger and more powerful Snippy which sold for $49.95 and Needie which sold for $89.95 joined the line up. The needie was over 4 times heavier than the Clippie at 8.5 lb. 

Each used fishing line as string. Shockingly the price for each weed eater was comparable to what you can expect to pay for an electric weed eater today. 

The ad for the original gas and electric weed eater

The First Gasoline Weed Eater

It didn’t take long for a gas-powered model of the weed eater to develop. The early model of the gas-powered weed eater was known as the Weedy. And it really wasn’t much different than the ones we use today, in fact the design has hardly changed at all. 

This is crazy but the original gas-powered weed eater was more expensive than most weed eaters today. The Clippy was $299.95, it had a 3-horse power engine, and held 180 feet of trimming line! Granted it was much thinner than modern line. 

Why are weed eaters called string trimmers?

Well the simple answer is it all comes down to trademark issues. You see, Weed Eater is a trademarked name. The brand was sold to the Emerson Electric Co. by Ballas. Eventually, Emerson Electric was acquired by Poulan which was eventually acquired by the Husqvarna Group in 1986 after the companies merged.  

This has led to a lot of debates about what the proper name is. Most companies label the machine as a “string trimmer". because it's not trademarked and is universally well known. 

However, some companies have attempted other trademarked names for their weed eaters. For example, Weedwacker is trademarked by Craftsman. 

It’s very similar as to how Band-Aid has become the go-to name for a bandage. 

Its a weed eater not a string trimmer meme

Advancements in String Trimmer over Time

While modern weed eaters are much more efficient overall, not a lot has changed. While lawn care pros may prefer some brands or models over others. The weed eater itself has largely remained the same in design and function. Though there is a clear winner for the best weed eater according to lawn care pros. 

But, unlike the diverse history of the lawn mower. The weed eater engine model has been the source of several advancements in lawn care and landscaping technology. 

The Creation of Attachments for Weed Eaters

The biggest advancement to the weed eater perhaps is the ability to attach different tools to the end. Some of these new attachments include:

  • Leaf blowers,
  • Edgers,
  • Brush cutters,
  • Pole saws,
  • And even Tillers.

In my experience, attachments to the weed eater are definitely useful for a variety of uses, especially the brush-cutting attachment. However many are gimmicks.

Different tools inspired by the weed eaters invention

An Inspiration of Other Tools 

Look, other tools have evolved from the weed eater such as the gas-powered pole saw, which even has expandable models. 

Then of course there is a string brush cutter. But in my experience, a weed eater with a brush cutting head is much more efficient than a string brush cutter. 

Introduction of Battery Power

It’s no secret, that battery-powered equipment is taking over. And it’s no surprise that there are now battery-powered weed eaters. 

And while I love my gas-powered equipment, there is no denying that a battery-powered weedwhacker is far better than dragging a cord around the entire lawn. 

The Abomination of Black and Decker’s Weed Eater Lawn Mower

Then there is this “advancement” in weed eater technology. 

The weed eater, lawn mower, edger 3 in one combo from Black and Decker. 

Which is truly a stain on the entire lawn care industry.

 Check it out here:

The Future of Weed Eater Technology

Weed eaters have been an amazing invention and innovation in the field of lawn care.

It’s true, while the better models may cut more efficiently, and run more reliably. There is no arguing that even a cheap weed eater is a much better option than a set of pruning shears. 

What will the future of the weed eater be? Only time will tell. In the meantime stay tuned for more history and landscaping tips.

Did you know that the first string trimmers were marketed as edgers too? In fact, you can use them to edge like a pro

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