Alexander Shanks was an engineer born in Milnetown of Bridgetown, Forfarshire, and was the owner of Alexander Shanks & Son who popularised the lawnmower during the 19th century.
The firm was founded in 1840 in Arbroath, and was originally concerned with the production of iron castings, steam engines and excavating machinery.
In 1842, however, Shanks registered his first patent for a lawnmower that could cut grass and roll the turf in one operation. Following a successful trial of the machine in July of that year, the Mechanical Magazine published an appreciative review suggesting that the design, powered by a horse and guided by a driver, was superior to its competitors. It was this model that was used to promote both the lawnmower and the firm by Shanks’ son, James (1831-1899) during the second half of the century.
An Arbroath engineer, Alexander Shanks was engaged by W.F. Carnegie to improve upon Budding's mower so that it could be more easily pulled by two men or a pony. This design was patented in 1842 and, because Budding's original patents did not cover Scotland, it was able to enter full production. Shanks produced a steam powered mower in 1902. A wide range of mowers was produced both before and after the two World Wars, but in later years the company ran into financial difficulties and turned to making gang mowers for ATCO, eventually being taken over by that company in 1960. The Shanks name finally disappeared from the mower scene about 1970.
John Martin, ‘Shanks, Alexander (1801–1845)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Oct 2007 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/..., accessed
5 Jan 2009]