Cyrus McCormick , in full Cyrus Hall McCormick (born February 15, 1809, Rockbridge county, Virginia, U.S.—died May 13, 1884, Chicago, Illinois), American industrialist and inventor who is generally credited with the development (from 1831) of the mechanical reaper.
McCormick was the eldest son of Robert McCormick—a farmer, blacksmith, and inventor. McCormick’s education, in local schools, was limited. Reserved, determined, and serious-minded, he spent all of his time in his father’s workshop.
The elder McCormick had invented several practical farm implements but, like other inventors in the United States and England, had failed in his attempt to build a successful reaping machine. In 1831 Cyrus, aged 22, tried his hand at building a reaper. Resembling a two-wheeled, horse-drawn chariot, the machine consisted of a vibrating cutting blade, a reel to bring the grain within its reach, and a platform to receive the falling grain. The reaper embodied the principles essential to all subsequent grain-cutting machines.
For farmers in the early 19th century, harvesting required a large number of labourers, and, if they could be found, the cost of hiring them was high. When McCormick’s reaper was tested on a neighbour’s farm in 1831, it offered the hope that the yield of the farmer’s fields would soon not be limited to the amount of labour available. The machine had defects, not the least of which was a clatter so loud that slaves were required to walk alongside to calm the frightened horses.
McCormick took out a patent in 1834, but his chief interest at that time was the family’s iron foundry. When the foundry failed in the wake of the bank panic of 1837, leaving the family deeply in debt, McCormick turned to his still-unexploited reaper and improved it. He sold 2 reapers in 1841, 7 in 1842, 29 in 1843, and 50 the following year.
An 1844 visit to the prairie states in the Midwest convinced McCormick that the future of his reaper and of the world’s wheat production lay in this vast fertile land rather than in the rocky,