The alternate name for the Great Plains is the Great American Desert. As a result, farming on the Great Plains, while always possible to some extent (though not always successful), didn’t really become as big as it is today until irrigation was introduced. While even today, irrigation is not universally used, it is more widespread than it was in the first half of the 20th century.
Of the types of irrigation practiced today, while I saw a few places with drip lines, center-pivot irrigation systems—or just “pivot” for short—were what I saw most commonly.
The pivot was invented in 1947-48, and at Pioneer Village, they had an early example of this revolutionary system. (Revolutionary because it not only watered automatically, but also because it actually made far more efficient use of water resources than earlier methods.)
In case you wondered why, when you fly over farming areas, you see a lot of green circles on the ground, this is why—the pivot turns on a central point, watering a circular area. They do make pivots now with an arm that can extend outward at the corners, but these systems are expensive, so they are not the sort of thing you replace simply because there is some new tweak that looks good.
There is a lot more about the invention of the pivot and its impact in my book, Midwest Maize, but I couldn’t resist at least showing the early version of this system.
And because you probably won’t see the actual pivot very often, but rather the outstretched arm that carries the water, here’s what that outstretched arm looks like.