McCormick, Cyrus Hall

McCormick, Cyrus Hall,

1809–84, inventor of the reaper, b. Rockbridge co., Va. His father, Robert McCormick (1780–1846), had worked intermittently for over 20 years at his blacksmith shop on a reaping machine, but had given it up before Cyrus, his eldest son, began working on different principles. The first public demonstration of the reaper, as constructed by Cyrus, took place in July, 1831, and was a success, although he did not patent it until after Obed Hussey announced his invention in 1834. McCormick's reaper contained the straight reciprocating knife, guards, reel, divider, platform, main-drive wheel, and other innovations that are essential features of every satisfactory harvesting machine. His early machines were made for local use, and not until more than 10 years later did he begin in earnest to expand his market. In 1847 he built his Chicago factory; in 1851 he introduced the reaper into England and, subsequently, into other European countries. He continued to patent improvements and demonstrated his machine in the field, often in competition with Hussey's reaper. After 1850 many strong competitors appeared and Hussey gave up, while only McCormick's unusual business ability kept him in the running. He was quick to purchase promising inventions and added the self-rake, hand binder, and twine binder.


See biographies by W. T. Hutchinson (2 vol., 2d ed. 1968) and H. N. Casson (1909, repr. 1971).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

McCormick, Cyrus Hall

(1809–84) inventor, manufacturer; born in Rockbridge County, Va. His father, Robert McCormick (1780–1846), patented several agricultural implements, but abandoned his efforts to develop a mechanical reaper in 1831. The son took up the project and patented a reaper in 1834, a year after the U.S. Patent Office had recognized a similar machine. McCormick and his competitors engaged in a fierce rivalry, but the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company emerged dominant due to constant improvements on his reaper, his use of labor-saving machinery in his factory, and his adoption of new marketing methods, such as deferred payments and guarantees. He used some of his vast wealth to support a Presbyterian theological seminary (after 1886, the McCormick Theological Seminary) and other institutions, and was active in Illinois Democratic politics. In 1902 his manufacturing firm became the International Harvester Company.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.