Cyrus McCormick (SIGH rus - mac COR mik) grew up on a farm in Virginia. His goal was to earn a million dollars. In 1833 that was a lot of money. The average worker only earned a nickel an hour. Twenty-six years later, he had earned a million dollars. He had also changed the way people farmed, with his wheat harvester called the reaper. Cyrus and his wife were very generous, sharing their money with people who needed help.
Before his invention, a farmer could harvest only one to three acres a day using a
scythe* (SIGHTH). With the invention, a farmer and a helper could harvest
12 acres a day!
He had invented the reaper when he was only 22 years old. His father
had tried for 15 years to invent a harvester, but had not been able to
build one successfully. He had made a lot of mistakes, but young Cyrus
learned from his father's mistakes. If a strand of wheat got tangled
in the machine, he would get down on his hands and knees to look,
until he found out exactly why it had tangled.
He asked his father if he could take
over working on the invention. His father gave his permission, but
thought it was hopeless.
In just 2 months he was able to make a harvester. Some said it looked like
a combination of a flying machine, a wheelbarrow, and a carriage.*
When he tested it, he could harvest an acre an hour. (Remember,
the old by-hand speed was one to three acres a day.)
He invited farmers to come and watch him work. They thought it was just
entertainment.* They would watch him harvest, and then they would go home and use
their old hand scythes. They would say things like, "I'm running a farm,
not a circus."
Cyrus decided he would get some of the successful farmers
to test his reaper. Maybe they would talk the other farmers into buying a
reaper of their own. He just could not interest them, so he decided to
work on it some more so it would work even better. He put a blade on
it which would chop the wheat off cleanly.
In 1843, another man, who was also making a reaper, challenged him to a
contest. They would see who could cut the most wheat. On the day of
the contest, it rained. The other man's reaper jammed and wouldn't cut,
but McCormick had designed his to cut in damp weather.
That year he
sold 29 reapers and each year after that he sold more and more. By 1850, he was selling
5,000 reapers a year.
His company became the International Harvester Company in 1902.
At the time of his death in 1884, enough grain was shipped from
Chicago to bake 10 billion loaves of bread a year, thanks to McCormick's
This biography by Patsy Stevens, a retired teacher, was written in 2001.