MP036: Atco Battery Mower, 1950s/60s

Atco electric lawn mower powered by a car battery.

Battery mowers were popular in the latter part of the 1950s, throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. They were produced by a number of companies including Qualcast, Webb and Valor although the best known manufacturer was Atco.

The battery was similar to those used in motor cars. It supplied power to an electric motor that drove the cutting cylinder and rear roller to move the mower forward. 

Atco produced battery electric mowers in 12", 14" and 17" cutting widths during the 1950s and 1960s. The mowers had a 12V battery and included a built in charger that could operate with the 200/250V and 110/120V mains power supplies. Each of these mowers was basically a modified version of the company's petrol-engines mowers with the same cutting widths that were produced at the same time.

The battery mower offered a quiet and inexpensive alternative to the conventional motor mower before mains electricity was widely accepted as a power source for garden tools.  The battery mower was quieter than a petrol-engined machine. It could be used well away from the house and did not need a mains cable to supply the electricity. It was therefore highly mobile - the sort of technology we now call "cordless".

Despite these advantages there were also some significant limitations to battery power. The battery only held enough charge to mow a relatively small lawn before it needed recharging. Batteries do not generally perform well when constantly drained and recharged and their useful life is shortened. The battery had to be carried by the mower. This made the whole machine heavy and a significant proportion of the battery's energy was used simply to carry the battery.

When mains power became more widely available, safer and accepted the days of the battery mower were numbered. By the early 1970s they had virtually disappeared from the manufacturers' ranges. However, in recent years some manufacturers have renewed their interest in battery power for situations where an environmentally friendly solution is required, for example where low emissions or quiet operation is needed.

Battery mowers are not among the most highly prized of old lawn mowers but they are nevertheless an interesting part of mowing history.