Cyrus McCormick

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Cyrus McCormick, American inventor of the mechanical reaper.

Cyrus McCormick was born on February 15, 1809, near Lexington, Virginia. Hoping to reduce the workload on his farm, Robert McCormick, Cyrus's father, had tried to develop a mechanical harvester in the early nineteenth century. Unfortunately, all of his attempts had failed. In 1831, Cyrus succeeded in developing a horse-drawn reaper that successfully harvested six acres of oats.

McCormick devoted the next few years to improving his machine. In 1832, a new version of his reaper harvested fifty acres of wheat. By 1833, McCormick had produced a machine that harvested approximately one dozen acres of grain per day. Unfortunately for the inventor, difficult financial times during the middle 1830s, which culminated in the Panic of 1837, prevented farmers in the East from purchasing his machine for several years. He did not sell his first reaper until 1839. McCormick's desire to perfect his machine allowed Obed Hussey, an Ohioan, to patent his version of the reaper first. Hussey had much more success selling his reaper to people in Ohio and further west, as there was an abundance of land and a shortage of labor. Hussey's invention helped alleviate the lack of workers. Many of McCormick's potential customers, primarily farmers in Virginia, owned slaves and did not see the need for a machine to reduce workloads, since they already had enslaved African Americans to do the hard physical labor common with farming.

In the early 1840s, McCormick decided to expand his market to the Midwest. He franchised his business, authorizing several business owners, including one in Cincinnati, Ohio, to manufacture his reaper. By 1844, McCormick was selling fifty reapers per year. McCormick's harvester was of a significantly better quality than Obed Hussey's reaper, and McCormick quickly outsold his chief competitor. In 1846, McCormick moved his base of operations from Virginia to Chicago, Illinois, constructing a factory that would begin mass-producing his reapers in 1848. Chicago was an ideal location for McCormick's plant. Located in the American West, most people migrating to the frontier hoped to acquire land to become farmers. McCormick hoped that the migrants would want to purchase his reaper to ease the workloads on their farms. McCormick was correct in his assumption. By 1856, McCormick's company was producing four thousand reapers per year with a workforce of two hundred men. McCormick also had begun to sell his reaper in Europe.

McCormick continued to direct his company until 1880, when his son, Cyrus McCormick, Jr., assumed control. Cyrus McCormick, Sr., died in 1884. By the time of McCormick's death, his company had produced approximately six million reapers, had lessened the amount of work for farmers, and had dramatically increased farm production.

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