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Cyrus H. McCormick

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Cyrus Hall McCormick
Cyrus Hall McCormick of Rockbridge County in Virginia, is best known for inventing the mechanical reaper, one of the most important evolutionary machines in the agricultural industry, in 1831. He was responsible for forming McCormick Harvesting Co. and later launched International Harvester Co., one of the largest agricultural manufacturer companies worldwide before it was acquired by Case IH.


[edit] History

[edit] Birth and Early Years

Cyrus McCormick was born in 1809 in Rockbridge County in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He grew up on a farm and had a natural inclination towards the agricultural industry and its setbacks.

His grandfather, Robert McCormick, was from Pennsylvania and also worked on a farm. Robert McCormick moved his wife Martha and their five children to Rockbridge in 1779, where he thought there was a stronger future in the farming industry.

Robert McCormick is reported to have owned four slaves and seven horses, indicated by tax rolls of 1812. His farm was a prosperous one, as evidenced by the amount of property he possessed, including a sawmill, cider mill, distillery, two grain mills, and a smokehouse.

In 1808, Cyrus’ father, Robert, married Mary Ann Hall and eventually bought a 532-acre (215.3-ha) farm from Robert Sr., called “Walnut Grove.”[1]

[edit] McCormick’s Reaper

Cyrus had always had a flair for inventions. When he was 15 years old, he invented a cradle that harvested grain. His father also attempted to make changes to farming equipment. Robert Jr. invented a horse-drawn reaper but never fully succeeded. Cyrus, on the other hand, grew interested in the idea of a reaper and started forumulating plans for one. He performed many tests on the finished product with the help of one of his slaves and friend, Jo Anderson. He introduced the reaper to the public at Steele’s Tavern in Virginia in 1831. The reaper was capable of cutting 10 acres (4 ha) a day, equivalent to the work of five men. Although the results were favorable, McCormick did not patent his reaper until 1834.[2] His success was slow moving at first; he had sold less than 100 machines by the end of 1846.

The invention of the reaper led McCormick to found McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. in 1848 in Chicago, Illinois, where he and his family had moved a year earlier. His brothers, William and Leander, joined him in partnership. Chicago was a wise choice as it was a fast-growing industrial city where McCormick’s inventions could be further developed. McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. developed a positive reputation. The “Virginia Reaper” catapulted McCormick’s company into the position of one of the largest worldwide farm equipment manufacturing companies. McCormick’s reaper was awarded the gold medal at the Royal Exposition in London’s Crystal Palace. This recognition made the reaper an international commodity.[3]

While the reaper was largely responsible for the success of the company, McCormick was also a smart businessman and made his products affordable to farmers, providing them with the opportunity to use credit to purchase his machines. He knew that if farmers purchased his products, they would develop a long-standing loyalty that would benefit the company in the long-term. He had advertising techniques that persuaded even the most reticent of farmers to buy his reapers.

[edit] The Company and McCormick’s Death

By 1858, McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. was one of the best-known and successful farm equipment manufacturers in the world. However, there were some setbacks. The factory was a fatality of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. McCormick responded by building another factory, called McCormick Works. The rebuilding of the business led to a thirst for expansion and McCormick branched out to other countries such as Russia and New Zealand and launched factories there as well.

Cyrus McCormick died in 1884 as one of the most influential forces of a mechanized agricultural industry. McCormick did not survive to see his company merge with rival William Deering Co. in 1902. His son, Cyrus McCormick Jr., took over the company and was the CEO for 34 years. His leadership resembled that of his father and they kept the company name for 150 years until 1985 when Case acquired International Harvester and it became Case IH.[4]

Today, remnants of the International Harvester that Cyrus McCormick put his life-blood into lives on in Case IH.

[edit] References

  1. Biography of Cyrus Hall McCormick. Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station, 2008-09-25.
  2. Official Case IH website
  3. Biography of Cyrus Hall McCormick. Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station, 2008-09-25.
  4. Haycraft, William, R. Yellow Steel: the Story of Earthmoving Equipment Industry. U of Illinois P: Chicago, 2000.