Masking tape was invented in 1925, cellophane tape in 1930, and duct tape in 1940. What on earth did people use before these wonderful adhesives? Why, string or twine, of course. And chances are that the first two inventions were new enough in the culture during the 1930s that plenty of people, out of old habit, still relied on tying things rather than taping them. And furthermore, because of their newness, tapes were pricier than string.
You’re a thrifty farmer, it’s the Depression, and that new fangled tape, though appealing, is expensive. You might simply purchase store-bought string. Better yet budget-wise, you could pull odds & ends of string from say, butcher’s packages, or the morning newspaper ties, and create yourself a Big Ball of String to tap as needed.
So it comes as no surprise that a farmer would be the one to take this originally very sensible idea to its extreme conclusion, and create not just A big ball of string, but the BIGGEST ball of string! 17,400 lbs. and 12 feet in diameter, and twine, to be exact. Nor does it come as a surprise that the farmer, Francis A. Johnson, of Darwin, MN, was born in 1904. In other words he was of a generation used to using string or twine, not tape, to bundle things.
No, Johnson never lived anywhere in Appalachia, but you can bet there were and are plenty of farmers just like him throughout the region who’ve got their more humble, if perhaps a bit more useful, version of the big ball of string.