Cyrus Hall McCormick

Bios - McCormickCyrus Hall McCormick, inventor and industrialist and also known as the "Father of Modern Agriculture," was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, (150 miles SW of Washington, D.C.) on 15 February 1809, the son of Robert McCormick and Mary Ann Hall.

McCormick revolutionized agriculture and ultimately all of society with his invention of the reaper in 1831, a machine that made possible for the first time the mechanical harvesting of standing ripe grain.

Prior to McCormick's invention, farmers had to harvest their grain crops manually using either a sickle or scythe. Using these implements was backbreaking and inefficient. A farmer on a good day could only harvest one-half to three acres a day. Thus, because grain had to be harvested within a short time period, farmers had to either limit their harvest acreage or employ more workers during harvest time to ensure that the entire crop was harvested. However, by making use of a reaper, only a few men were needed to do the work that previously required ten.

The impact of the reaper was that it greatly reduced the amount of manpower required to sustain agriculture. Individuals were freed up from farming responsibilities were able to pursue other endeavors. Thus, much of the United States' nineteenth century advancement in the sciences and the arts can be attributed to McCormick's reaper. The reaper has been heralded as one of the greatest inventions of all time.

The reaper was to eventually bring great fortune to McCormick. Even though nearly ten years were to elapse before he sold his first reaper, by 1847 its sales had grown to such proportions that McCormick moved his production facility from the family farm in Virginia to the then frontier city of Chicago.

This move not only provided him with the manufacturing capability to produce more reapers, but it also allowed him easier access to the developing grain fields of the Midwest and Plains. From this time onward, sales of the reaper increased substantially.By 1858, McCormick's company was the largest farm equipment manufacturer in the country. This company would eventually become the International Harvester Company, one of the largest agricultural equipment manufacturers in the world.

The reapers also brought fame to McCormick, earning him the title, "Father of Modern Agriculture." It won the grand prize, the Council Medal, at the 1851 World's Fair in London and the Grand Medal of Honor at the 1855 Paris International Exhibition. It was said of McCormick, upon his election into the French Academy of Science in 1878, that he had done more for the course of agriculture than any other living man.

McCormick was involved in more activities than just promotion of his reaper and the management of his company. He was also a devout "Old School" Presbyterian and a strong advocate of the Democratic Party. It was his belief that only through the Church and the Democratic Party that the country could remain intact during the divisive antebellum years. As a result, he financially supported both of them.

His most notable contribution resulted in the 1859 relocation of the Seminary of the Northwest from New Albany, Indiana to Chicago, where it was eventually renamed the McCormick Theological Seminary. He and his estate continued to promote conservative Presbyterianism by supporting this seminary into the twentieth century. He also ran for governor of Illinois, Congressman, and the vice-presidency of the United States. In each case, he was not successful.

McCormick remained generous in the post-war era as well. He gave to numerous individuals and aid associations to help restore the South. Most notable was an endowment of $20,000 to Washington College in his home county in Virginia. In the North, after the Church and the Democratic Party, he was most generous to causes in the Chicago area. To the Chicago YMCA, he give $25,000 and his estate give $100,000 to the Chicago Evangelization Society, an organization intent on training men and women for the task of evangelizing Chicago. This society would eventually be named the Moody Bible Institute after D. L. Moody, a personal friend of McCormick. McCormick's legacy with the Moody Bible Institute did not just include monetary gifts. McCormick's son, Cyrus Hall McCormick, Jr. was to become Moody Bible Institute's first chairman of the board.

Married on 26 January 1858 to Nancy Maria "Nettie" Fowler, who was a friend and confidant of Emma Dryer. The couple eventually had five children. Cyrus Hall McCormick died in Chicago on 13 May 1884 at the age of seventy-five. His body is buried at the Graceland Cemetery at 4001 N. Clark Street in Chicago.


Harvester World 27, no. 7 (July 1936).

Hatstad, Margaret R., ed. Guide to the McCormick Collection of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Stevens Point, Wisc.: Worzalla Publishing Co. 1973.

Hutchinson, William T. Cyrus Hall McCormick. Vol 1, Seed Time, 1809-1856. New York: Appleton-Century Company, 1930. Reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1968.

Hutchinson, William T. Cyrus Hall McCormick. Vol 2, Harvest, 1856-1884. New York: Appleton-Century Company, 1935. Reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1968.

"McCormick, Cyrus Hall." Historical Collection, Henry C. Crowell Library, Moody Bible Institute, Chicago. McCormick Reaper Centennial Source Material. n.p, n.d.

Woodbridge, John, ed. More than Conquerors: Portraits of Believers from All Walks of Life. Chicago: Moody Press, 1992.

McCormick's Life Timeline

1809, February 15
Born Rockbridge County, Virginia.

Invented first successful mechanical reaper

Moved his production facility west to Chicago, Illinois to be closer to the grain fields of the Midwest and Plains.

Reaper won Council Medal at the London World's Fair.

Reaper won the Grand Medal of Honor at the Paris International Exhibition.

Married Nancy Maria ("Nettie") Fowler, 23.

Brought Seminary of the Northwest, latter the McCormick Theological Seminary to Chicago.

Factory destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire.

Elected into the French Academy of Science.

1884, May 13
Died in Chicago.

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