Farmers have always been known to be conservative, in the early days of America, no group resisted innovations and inventions
more than they did. For thousands of years the wooden plow had been used by farmers. They took the attitude that what was
good enough for their fathers was good enough for them. To support their resistance to change, they also felt back on age-old
superstitions about the land they worked. Thomas Jefferson had little luck in introducing his ideas for improved plow design.
Eventually, Jefferson's basic design became the model for most American plows, but years would pass before farmers accepted the
change. Charles Newbold introduced an improved plow with an iron blade in 1793, but farmers rejected it. Here they brought up the
old superstition about iron poisoning the soil and making weed grow. They went stubbornly along, breaking their wooden plows on
rocks and tough toots for another twenty years before accepting Jethro Wood's Iron plow. Wood's plow was made with separate
parts so that each piece could be replaced if it were broken by heavy work.
This practical feature made farmers forget their grumbling about Iron poisoning the soil. The Iron plow, although it was a great step
forward, did not solve the problem of the western farmers. Their soil was a heavy mud that stuck to the plow blade instead
of turning over as it should have. Hundreds of new blade designs were tried without success before John Deere realized that
the trouble was in the Iron and not in its design. Deere made a plow of steel. The bright metal slid smoothly through the
sticky soil, making deep, clean furrows in the earth.
Deere's plow was expensive; the steel for it had to be brought from Germany. Neverthless, every farmer wanted to own one.
It was so light that Deere could carry it on his shoulder. Yet it was tough, and it worked better than any other plow made.
The inventor made a fortune with the steel plow, and millions of acres of farmland were brought into use by his invention.
The farmers soon stopped grumblin about "New farming ideas" and began to build up surpluses as more acres of land was
cultivated. Wheat farming was the main industry of the middle west, but, with increased production, harvesting or reaping
the grain presented a new problem.
Wheat which supplies the bread for the world, has a short harvest period lasting only from four to eight days. Very soon
after the wheat is ripe, the stalks begin to break and fail, and grain scatters. Unless it is cut quickly much of the crop is lost.
Primitive tools, the sickle and the scythe used in early reaping were supplemented during the revolutionary period by the
invention of the "Cradle". This contrivance, which was fastened to the scythe, had wooden fingers that held the cut stalks
of wheat in an upright position, so that they could be laid down in neat rows with stalks parallel. A worker followed
and bound the stalks into sheaves. While the "Cradle" increased the amount of wheat that could be cut, it was so heavy
that only a strong man could handle it.
In virginia, Robert McCormick was working on a reaping machine, while John Deere was perfecting his plow in Illinois.
McCormick's son Cyrus was born in 1800. The elder McCormick was an inventor and an expert ironworker. He had
invented a threshing machine, a hemp-breaking machine, an improved blacksmith's bellows and several mill devices.
Not bothering with patents, he had never profited financially from any of these inventions. As Cyrus grew up, he watched
his father at work on a horse-drawn reaper. By 1831, Robert McCormick was ready to try his reaper. This
horse-drawn machine had seven working parts that were moved automatically by the turning of the wheel on the
The horse was hitched to the side of the reaper, outside the adge of standing grain. A moving knife blade cut, while fingers
of Iron held the grain straight for cutting. A device called a "reel" pressed the grain into the fingers, then into a platform.
Three men could harvest the grain; one drove the horse, the other raked the grain from the platform to the ground in rows,
the third man bound the stalks into sheaves. To the crowd of jeering and scoffing laborers who watched the first demonstration,
this was just another of Robert McCormick's contraptions. Fear was behind the jeering. No one wanted a machine that would
perform the work of men. How they jeered when the machine refused to work!
The older McCormick stoped from the field in disgust, declaring he was through with the thing. But Cyrus took the reaper
back to the shop, and from then on, took up the work of perfecting it. More than anything else he wanted to stop people
from making fun of his father.
The following year at harvest time Cyrus was ready to try the reaper. Unfortunately, the field selected was rocky, and after
a few attempt, the farmer said his field was being ruined. McCormick was about to remove the machine when a kindly
farmer stepped up and offered to let him try the reaper in his field. "Just pull the fence down and go over", he urged.
Cyrus did so. This was a level field, and before the sunset the machine had proved itself by harvesting six acres of grain.
The jeerers now were silent and the farmers were loud to their prise. They declared the reaper to be worth a hundred
thousand dollars. But when Cyrus had built a few and offered them at fifty dollars each, the farmers were not so eager
to buy. They said it would take an expert to handle it, and that the many parts were like a circus.
Disappointed with his experience in Virginia, Cyrus went West. There he saw great areas of flat, smooth fields. It was the
the place where his machine could be used perfectly. As he talked with the farmers Cyrus realized that if he allowed them
to buy the reaper on easy payment terms, his volume of manufacturing and the demand for his machine would increase.
This was a starting aproach to the farmers. Except in buying land, no one had ever heard of "buying on time."
McCormick decided to manufacture his reaper in the West, where transportation would be easier. He selected Chicago,
which in those days was not at all like the city it is today. Its building were crude and shabby. Its roads were mere paths,
and there was not sanitation. As in other cities, pigs roamed the streets. Still, the city had a Mayor. Mayor Ogden
listened to McCormick and realized that here was a machine that could make Chicago a great city. Ogden took a part
interest in the reaper by lending McCormick the money to establish a factory. McCormick was joined by his brother and
two years after the factory was started, the brothers had paid back their loan of twenty-five thousand dollars.
Within ten years, they were selling more than twenty thousand reapers a year. They had prospered through installment selling
to the farmers and were well on their way to becoming millionaires. Before the reaper, farmers of the midwest grew no more
wheat than they could harvest by hand. This was only as much as they needed for their own use. The reaper made huge
harvest possible. Farmers spread further westward to more and more acres of wheat. Chicago, the center of grain trading
and shipping, flourished and grew.
McCormick's company grew also. Eventually it became the great International Harvester co.,supplying farm machinery to
all the world. In later life McCormick, who had little time for schooling, gave generously of his fortune to education, particularly to
technological institutes. Cyrus McCormick was one of the rarest of inventors; he was a successful business man as well.