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Cyrus Hall McCormick 1809-1884: Inventor of the Reaper

Courtesy of Monreagh Heritage Centre
with additions from
Formatted by Jim McKane

Cyrus Hall McCormick

February 15, 1809 – May 13, 1884


Cyrus McCormick’s ancestors hailed from Ballygawley, Co. Tyrone, eventually settling in the Shenandoah Valley [State of Virginia, USA], an area of Ulster-Scots settlement. McCormick designed and built the first practical reaping machine. His invention allowed farmers to harvest grain faster and cheaper than ever before. Prior to inventing the reaper, farmers could only harvest half an acre a day; after his invention farmers could harvest 12 acres a day. The prominent American politician William H. Seward observed that as a result of McCormick’s reaper ‘the line of civilisation moves westward thirty miles each year’. McCormick transformed agriculture and made possible the diversification of American.industry.

And edited from 

Cyrus McCormick was born on February 15, 1809 in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He was the eldest of eight children born to inventor Robert McCormick Jr. (1780–1846) and Mary Ann "Polly" Hall (1780–1853). Cyrus' father saw the potential for a mechanical reaper. He worked for 28 years on a horse-drawn mechanical reaper to harvest grain; he was never able to reproduce a reliable version.

Cyrus took up the project aided by Jo Anderson, an enslaved African American on the McCormick plantation at the time. The McCormick reaper was pulled by horses and cut the grain to one side of the team.

Cyrus McCormick held one of his first demonstrations of mechanical reaping at the nearby village of Steeles Tavern, Virginia in 1831. He claimed to have developed a final version of the reaper in 18 months. The young McCormick was granted a patent on the reaper on June 21, 1834.

McCormick reaper and twine binder in 1884

Cyrus continuously improved the design selling seven reapers in 1842, 29 in 1843, and 50 in 1844. They were all built manually in the family farm shop. He received a second patent for reaper improvements on January 31, 1845.

In 1879, his company's name changed from "Cyrus H. McCormick and Brothers" to "McCormick Harvesting Machine Company". The International Harvester Company was an American manufacturer formed from the 1902 merger of McCormick Harvesting Machine Company and Deering Harvester Company.