Builders of our Country Vol. II - G. Southworth

Cyrus McCormick

In the first quarter of the nineteenth century there lived on a Virginia farm a little fellow by the name of Cyrus McCormick. During seed and harvest time he was expected to be in the fields each morning by five o'clock.

Those were the days when harvesting was hard, because it was all done by hand. First the grain had to be cut down with a scythe. Next it was gathered into bundles and tied together with a cord. Then it was carried to the barn and laid on the floor, while the men beat the grain free with flails.

As he helped in the fields, Cyrus McCormick kept thinking that perhaps he could make a machine which would lighten his work. And when he was only fifteen years old he made a harvesting cradle by which he himself could do in a day as much work as an able-bodied man could do.

Cyrus's father had attempted to invent a machine that would cut the grain. Though he had not succeeded, his failure inspired his son to try. Cyrus McCormick's idea was even greater than his father's. He believed that he could make one machine that would cut the wheat, gather it into sheaves, and bind it. This was not an easy task—far from it. But after working and working, Cyrus McCormick completed, in 1831, a reaping machine that was to prove a lasting success. What is more, every bit of the machine was made by his own hands.

The essentials of this reaper were those of the great reapers used to-day. There was a divider to separate the grain to be cut from that to be left standing; there was a cutting blade, a reel to bring the grain within reach of the

blade, and a platform to receive the falling grain. This machine was patented in 1834.

Success had come at last, and Cyrus McCormick began to manufacture reaping machines in a little workshop on his father's farm at Walnut Grove, Virginia. He worked under great difficulties because there were few railroads in those days, and much of the material for the reapers had to be carried across the country by horses. He could make hardly fifty machines during the whole year.

Cyrus McCormick


Then came the question of carrying the finished machines to the immense plains and wide grain fields of the West, where they would be of far greater use than in the East. While this proved difficult, the Western market offered large inducements; so Mr. McCormick decided to move to the West and there set up his factories.

First he went to Cincinnati, but a few years later he settled in Chicago, where he built a large manufacturing plant. This now turns out yearly more than 150,000 machines. It is said that each one of these machines saves the labor of six men in the field.

Harvesting machine


Before his death, in 1884, Cyrus McCormick had received many honors, and had been elected a member of the Institute of France, because he had "done more for the cause of agriculture than any other living man."