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21 June 2008

On this day in history: Mechanical reaper patented, 1834

In the early nineteenth-century, a Virginian called Robert Hall McCormick spent his time developing various inventions on his farm in Rockbridge County. In 1831, he passed the development of one such invention, a mechanical reaper, to his son, Cyrus, who was still in his early twenties but showed an aptitude for business. Cyrus improved upon his father design and received a patent for the McCormick Reaper on 21st June 1834. The machine required only two men to operate it: one rode the horse that pulled the machine; the other raked the cut grain from the platform on which it collected. In one day two men using the reaper could cut as much grain as over a dozen men working with scythes.

In spite of the labour-saving potential of the machine, initials sales were not promising; by the end of 1846 he had sold fewer than one hundred machines. Undaunted he moved to Chicago, the following year, where he found success by using original marketing techniques - such as sending out trained salesman to demonstrate the machines - and by benefiting from the city's status as an industrial centre and railway hub, which aided manufacture and distribution. Not long after relocating his brothers, William and Leander, joined him as partners in the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company.

The McCormick's continued to develop the machine, as well as other farming machinery, which they sold around the world. Sales undoubtedly benefited from the awards and honours bestowed upon Cyrus and his machine: the reaper won a gold medal at the 1851 Great Exhibition, in London; and the French Academy of sciences elected Cyrus as a corresponding member.

Cyrus died in 1884, passing the company to his grandson Cyrus Hall McCormick III. It was he who, two years later, presided over the darkest event in the company's history: the Haymarket Affair of 4th May 1886. Neverthless, the McCormick's company went from strength to strength, staying at the forefront of the manufacture and sale of not only farming equipment but also non-agricultural vehicles, weapons, and domestic appliances.

You can download a pdf copy of the original 1834 patent document from


admin said...

hi there, thx for visiting my blog... you have very interesting blog, i love to learn history;

btw, did you ever discuss about the history of how piggy bank came into our life? i'm trying to research over the internet but mostly said derived from the western world, it's funny though bcause i found out last year in a museum in Jakarta, Indonesia, that actually in 14th century, in Javanese society they made a piggy bank:) which came from a unique story...

nice to meet you,

Borkiman said...

Thanks for the kind words. I have not previously researched the origins of the piggy bank. A quick search of the Internet revealed that conventional wisdom has it that 'piggy bank' is derived from 'pygg' the name for a sort of orang clay used for making pots in which people kept money. No doubt people have been keeping space cash in pots since ancient times.

If you do write an article on the history of the piggy bank I will be more than happy to link to it from here, or if you prefer I could host it for you, as my first guest blogger.

Good luck

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Borkiman said...

Anon: I'm glad that you found the post useful. Thanks for leaving a comment.