Cyrus McCormick's Virginia Reaper
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By the end of 1847, Cyrus knew he had to move his operations from rural Virginia to an urban setting. His father's death in 1846 was probably a deciding factor. Cyrus left his mother to run Walnut Grove and found a place for a factory in the greater Chicago area.
Cyrus' decision was providence. He became an astute businessman, earning vast wealth and prestige. Several more important modifications over the years improved his simple machine's ability to produce at astounding levels, compared to sheer manpower. One or two workers could operate it with relative ease.
There's at least one lasting irony to Cyrus' story. By taking his harvesting miracle north and west prior to the Civil War, he gave the Union an advantage in feeding its armies, thereby releasing more able-bodied men to fight the war against his native South. But by then, even he chose to fight for the Union cause, further putting himself at odds with Virginia friends and relatives.
If anything, Cyrus McCormick's story proves that great inventions usually have a way of becoming impersonal to place or time. The needs of humanity as a whole overcome the best or worst intentions of a single idea. It happens whether the invention is a simple reaper, or a vexingly complex space station circling the earth. FC
Now known as the Shenandoah Valley Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the McCormick farm is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day year-round (weather permitting). Admission is free. It's located at 128 McCormick Farm Circle, Raphine, VA 24472, midway between Lexington and Staunton, Va., on Interstate 81. Take Exit 205 to US Route 606, go east on Rt. 606/Raphine Road for 1/2 mile. Turn left on Rt. 937 (McCormick Farm Circle). For more information, call the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University at (540) 377-2255; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edward Myers is a contributor from Martinsville, Va.
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