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Definition: McCORMICK, Cyrus Hall, 1809-1884 from A Biographical Dictionary of People in Engineering: From Earliest Records to 2000

American inventor and industrialist; hillside plow (1831), invented successful reaping machine at Walnut Grove Farm (VA) called Daisy (1831, pat. 1834), opened factory in Chicago (1847), formed and was president of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. (1879-1884), succeeded by son Cyrus Hall McCormick [1859-1936] who became president of the International Harvester Co. (IHC) (1902-1919) (AIE ANB ASAI CDOAB DAB EAI EOWB IAI IIA I&T16 LAI MEIA MWBD NC21 NYPL 1000Y PS Res14 SAI TBDOS TEIH TGS WA WWWIA WWWIS: see References.)

Summary Article: McCormick, Cyrus Hall (1809-1884)
From The Hutchinson Dictionary of Scientific Biography

Place: United States of America

Subject: biography, technology and manufacturing

US inventor best known for developing the first successful mechanical reaper.

The son of the inventor Robert McCormick, Cyrus McCormick was born in Virginia on 15 February 1809. Under the guiding influence of his father, he was encouraged to use the talents of his own inventive mind, and in 1831 produced a hillside plough, the first of several agricultural implements with which he was associated. In the same year he invented the prototype for his reaping machine, and although it was another nine years before it was perfected, when the machine was put into production a ready market existed.

With the Midwest opening up there was a need for mechanization to cope with the huge acreages involved. McCormick was invited to Chicago to demonstrate his machine and, as a result, began manufacturing there in 1847. But in 1848, when his patent expired, he had to face strong competition and only his good business sense kept him from being overwhelmed by other manufacturers who had been waiting to encroach on his markets. He survived and prospered, introduced his reaping machine into Europe and opened up an entirely new market, winning several prizes (including one at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851).

An inventor first and foremost, he also had the intelligence to spread his interests in other directions, including mining, railways, and newspaper publishing. He died in Chicago on 13 May 1884.

McCormick's reaping machine consisted of seven basic mechanisms that were principally the same as in its modern equivalent: the divider, reel, straight reciprocating knife, guards, platform, main wheel and gearing, and side-draft propulsion. The working was simple. A pulley at the side of the one road-driving wheel was connected by a band to another pulley above, turning the circular wooden frame. The blades of this were slightly twisted so that they gradually bent the corn down. Bevelled gears turned a small cranked shaft, which gave the movement to the cutting knife, working it backwards and forwards. The machine was designed purely as a reaper, and it left the corn lying flat, ready to be raked up and tied into sheaves. In the original machine the raker had to walk backwards while raking to avoid standing on the corn; in later models a seat was incorporated into the machine so that the raker could sit.

It was estimated that a McCormick reaper operated by a two-person crew and drawn by a single horse could cut as much corn as could 12-16 people with reap hooks. In a nation like the USA, with a rapidly expanding population (from 13 million to 60 million in 40 years) needing to be fed, it was essential that agriculture should be lifted from the manual to the mechanical wherever possible. McCormick's invention was the first of many that were to increase the production of cereals and guarantee enough food for all.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

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