Cyrus McCormick's Virginia Reaper

Cyrus McCormick changed harvest season forever with his Virginia reaper


| October 1999



Cyrus McCormick, 1809-1884

Cyrus McCormick, 1809-1884.

Early in the harvest season of 1831, a young fellow by the name of Cyrus McCormick stood in a field east of his father's farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and watched workers cradle the golden wheat. It was a slow process, requiring hour after hour of manpower and sweat. The ablest man could cradle no more than three acres a day. There had to be an easier way. 

Cyrus' father was posing the same question. In a small blacksmith shop near the mill, the elder McCormick had been toying with an invention for 15 years.

It was a bulky contraption, built to be pushed instead of drawn by horses, hitched to a long tongue protruding from the rear of the machine. It tested well on strong upright wheat, but failed miserably with damp stalks heavy winds had pushed to the ground. Robert McCormick had set aside the idea and concentrated on building a successful thresher instead.

With his father's working model at his disposal, Cyrus began to tinker. A serious young man who shunned the interests of others his age, he showed a remarkable mechanical aptitude. Other than a passing interest in music, invention became the one thing worthy of his time.

At the age of 22, he had constructed a workable hillside plow superior to any on the market. Plans for a Virginia reaper, using some of his father's previous ideas, quickly followed. Cyrus was convinced a practical machine to harvest wheat could be built by changing some of the basic principles. By mid-June 1831, he and a dedicated slave, Joe Anderson, began building on some new ideas. A hired workman, Sam Hite, later joined the project when Robert McCormick realized the depth of his son's efforts.

But time was not on Cyrus' side. By the middle of that year's harvest, the unlikely trio still toiled over hot coals, shaping unusual pulleys and blades as workmen met another daybreak with cradles in hand.