The first cylinder lawn mowers were developed in the early 19th century and were primarily used in place of the scythe for cutting sports fields more efficiently. These early cylinder lawn mowers were made of durable metal such as cast iron and were quite heavy; they were pushed from behind with the use of a long handle attached to the cylinder frame, and a second set of wheels behind the primary wheels would turn the cylinder itself for cutting. The width of these early cylinder lawn mowers varied as time went on, and subsequent models began to be developed using different materials and features.
The most common types of modern cylinder lawn mowers are manual models that are pushed by hand or pulled by a tractor and activated by the trailing wheel. These models are simple, easy to use, and low-maintenance. The clippings can be collected in an attached bin, or they may be returned to the lawn to be used as mulch, which is again very healthy for the lawn. Rotary mowers cut the grass in larger chunks, making it difficult for the lawn to compost the clippings. The clippings from a cylinder mower are much smaller and will compost quickly.
Gas-powered cylinder lawn mowers are quite common, especially for larger lawns and sporting fields. Golf courses and baseball fields, for example, are often cut with cylinder lawn mowers because the cut is very clean and the grass can be cut very low without damaging the lawn. The gas-powered versions spin the cylinder much more quickly than a manual model, and such models are powerful enough to cut high grass, whereas manual models that are pushed will often become clogged with grass and will be unable to cut through the thick lawn.
Electric cylinder lawn mowers are available but are far less common than manual and gas-powered mowers. These electric models are more eco-friendly than gas-powered mowers and are more powerful than hand-operated models, but they must be hooked up to an electrical source such as an outlet or a battery, meaning their operating time or range are limited by the battery's life or the length of the extension cord used to power the unit. These units are useful for extremely small lawns that are in close proximity to a power source.