Born in 1809, Cyrus McCormick initially called the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia home. He grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, but eventually found his way to Chicago where his family became prominent residents of the city. He founded the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company so that he could market and sell his primary invention. He had 7 children, two of which suffered from schizophrenia, yet was able to overcome these challenges and others to establish a successful company. His invention was eventually sold into International Harvester in 1902.
What Did McCormick Invent?
Cyrus McCormick is credited with the invention of the mechanical reaper. Sometimes he’s even called the “Father of Modern Agriculture” because his horse-drawn reaper made it a lot easier to farm large parcels of land and increase overall productivity. There is some controversy with his patent because it is believed he used the ideas of several people, including slaves his family owned at one point, to create the invention. What McCormick did, however, was pick up where his father had left off.
You see, at the time before the reaper was invented, people had to harvest grain by hand. A scythe was used to cut the grain and then binders would follow behind to tie the crops into bales for storage. It was a hard process and there was often land and seed to spare because there just wasn’t enough time to get the crop in on time. The mechanical reaper would change that… eventually.
McCormick Had Almost No Sales in 9 Years
Even though McCormick had field tested a working model of the mechanical reaper just 6 weeks after taking over where his father left off, no one was interested in the productivity gains that could be realized with the invention. This single invention could increase field productivity by 10 times or more without any effort, yet McCormick couldn’t convince farmers to make the jump into this new technology despite continual demonstrations.
After 10 years, however, sales began to spike and McCormick was forced to move production into a commercial facility instead of in his family’s blacksmith shop. He opened his first factory in Chicago in 1847 and never looked back. In 1851, the mechanical reaper won a gold medal for the Exposition at the London Crystal Palace and it made a major impact throughout Europe as he took the invention on tour.
McCormick may have had to fight for his patent rights in court and his factory might have been destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871, but his legacy was secure. Cyrus McCormick is proof positive that one invention really can change the world.
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