The Korean Nine-Person Shovel

Westerners traveling to Korea in the late nineteenth century were puzzled by this shovel, which they frequently saw in use on Korean farms. It required between three to nine people to operate, but it seemed to shovel dirt no faster or better than a western-style, one-person shovel.

However, the westerners may have been mistaken about the lack of efficiency of the Korean shovel. An article in Esquire (June 21, 2010) by John Richardson offers this piece of info:

When I was a teenager in Korea, the lesson was called Three Men on a Shovel. Koreans used to dig trenches using one guy steering the shovel with the handle and two other guys pulling with ropes tied to the shovel. How Americans would laugh! Dumb Koreans, takes three of them just to dig a hole! Then the Army did a test with three Americans with three shovels against the Koreans, and the Koreans kicked our asses.

via Flickr

via USC Digital Library

via wikipedia

The Korean Respository (1896)

     Posted By: Alex - Thu Jun 28, 2012
     Category: Inventions

Here in the land of fustanellas, just yesterday afternoon, I saw the Greek version of this shovel. One guy was digging and (I'm not exaggerating) EIGHT guys were hanging around watching. Some were being so energetically supportive as to shuffle paperwork or have a smoke.
Posted by Expat47 in Athens, Greece on 06/28/12 at 10:13 AM
Sounds like what we called the "Cal-Trans Shovel". It also required multiple bodies to operate - one to hold it in a vertical position and five to eight others to make sure that the holder didn't fall over from boredom. The crews were visible along every roadside in California.
Posted by KDP on 06/28/12 at 10:58 AM
From the upper picture, this looks more like a plow than a shovel, w/ the extra guys taking the place of a mule. Depending on how hard the dirt is, this might make sense. And Alex, the caption at the source of the second picture (hover your mouse over it), provided by the Methodist missionary who took it, refers to the process approvingly as being more efficient than the same number of men with individual shovels. Maybe it lets them plow at a high rate of speed. In any case, the snarky, "lazy little brown people" tone of the 1896 text makes me discount that author's analysis. (That attitude gets even more obvious as the source material continues.)
Posted by Frank H on 06/28/12 at 03:30 PM
Sounds like the hierarchy of school systems and government. One worker, eight or nine bosses.
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 06/28/12 at 09:30 PM
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