Charles Sherwood Noble (1873 - 1957)
Perhaps one of Alberta's greater known innovators, Charles Noble's
interest, commitment and impact on the agricultural industry is nearly
During the 1930s, agriculture in Alberta was substantially different than
it is today. Instead of relying on a variety of mechanized farm
implements, most work was done manually. In the wake of the First World
prices had been devastated and in addition, the Prairies were caught in
the middle of a lengthy and severe drought, substantially hindering
Perhaps it was all of these factors that led Charles
Sherwood Noble, a farmer who had immigrated to Alberta from North Dakota
in 1903, to create the Noble Blade, an invention which would revolutionize
the world of farming.
A rather independent and innovative sort, Noble was
born in State Center, Iowa in 1873, the eldest of six boys.
Entrepreneurial from a young age, he used to take vegetables from the
family garden and sell them around the neighbourhood to supplement the
family grocery fund.
Noble was a mere eight years old when his mother
passed away. Shortly thereafter, he was sent to live with a neighbouring family. They offered
room and board in exchange for work on their farm. At 15, Noble decided
to leave school to assist his father in supporting the family. A couple of
years later, he bought a team of horses and used them to deliver wood, hay and straw. A year after that,
Noble and his brother
Newell bought a thresher. At 23 years of age, fulfilling a long-held
dream, Noble obtained a 160-acre homestead in Knox, North Dakota. This
was only the beginning of what promised to become a lifelong pursuit.
It was 1902 when Noble moved to Alberta (then
part of the Northwest Territories), relocating to the Claresholm area.
The next year, he and Margaret Naomi Fraser, sister of Reverend Simon
Fraser, were married. In the following years, Noble purchased 4,000
acres of land and in 1909, he, Margaret, their two sons Gerald and
Shirley and their pet canary moved to the newly established Nobleford.
1913, the Noble Foundation Ltd. was formed and included the earlier
established Grand View and Mountain View Farms. When asked why he had
given his business a name such as the Noble Foundation, Noble remarked
that he hoped the endeavour would transcend the making of money and become
an organization dedicated to the "best utilization of Southern Alberta
farmlands and the prosperity of its people."
Yes, Noble was a farmer, but he was also a soil
conservationist. Far ahead of his time, he realized that measures had to
be taken to ensure the land was used to produce the most food without harming the soil. He pursued crop
farming success but was careful not to ignore its toll on the land.
It was right around this time the crops yielded from his land began to
break world records. In 1912, Noble was recognized as World Flax
King and in 1915, he was given the title of World Oats King . His record
breaking crops were the result of a careful seed selection process he
Noble's land was yielding very substantial crops, in the post-war
period, the market was in serious decline. He was not generating the amount of
money needed to sustain farming operations and make the required payments
on his land. Debt, falling prices and the sheer size of his farming
operation left him vulnerable.
With land holdings up around 30,000 acres by 1922, Noble was a rather wealthy man, worth approximately
$2.5 million. No one anticipated the problems that would shortly arise.
In the autumn of 1922, the Spokane Trust Company, to
whom Noble owed approximately $600,000, foreclosed on the Noble estate.
The family was left with almost nothing.
Never one to be discouraged, Noble accepted the
banks offer of a salary of $4,000 to preside over the sale of the farming
equipment they had appropriated from him. In a couple of years, he had
saved up enough money to buy back his Grand View Farm and later, Cameron
Ranch. By 1930, Noble was farming 8,000 acres and was incorporated under
Noble Farms Ltd. In 1936 Noble came upon his idea for
the Noble blade cultivator.
Touted as one of the most important agricultural
inventions of the 20th century, it was, essentially, a heavy steel
sub-soil blade that cut weeds off at the roots without disturbing the
surface of the ground. Noble came to the idea while vacationing in
California one winter. He witnessed the harvesting of beets and carrots
using a machine that undercut the vegetables without damaging the surface
soil. Believing the same principle could be implemented on a larger scale,
Noble set to work on the invention. When he returned home for the season,
he was pulling a trailer with the twelve foot blade.
Noble Blade enjoyed a fair amount of success, going into production for
just over a year. This was in no small way, directly attributable to
Noble's own efforts. A year or so after the invention went into
production, other cultivators were becoming commonplace and superceded Noble's Blade.
In the early 1950s, Charles and his wife Margaret, who
was afflicted with diabetes, moved to Lethbridge to ensure she would have
better access to the medical care she required. She died in December 1955.
Charles, who had been ill from leukemia for
approximately four years prior to his death, passed away in July 1957. He
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