A topic often covered in America’s classrooms is that of Cyrus McCormick and his reaper. In that case, International Harvester Farm Equipment could be a source book for historians. It’s difficult to imagine that any other work could provide as comprehensive a story of International Harvester and how that company came to be. With extensive illustrations, appendices, headings and detail, this book tells the story of one company’s legacy.
The authors state the book’s purpose as being “to record and preserve in one document some of the key events in the company’s development, and to display and describe selected innovative, as well as traditional, farm and industrial tractors and equipment that contributed to IH leadership in the industry.” Rest assured they do that, and then some.
With more than 600 photos, illustrations, and reprints of old advertisements from the archives of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin and the McCormick-International Harvester corporate collection, the book is well illustrated. Carefully documented illustrations track the evolution of the company’s technology and equipment. The reader sees the tone of the visuals change from truly historic to the humdrum “data sheets” of the ’60s and ’70s. Also of note is the book’s appendix, which provides detailed statistics for the large compilation of products in the McCormick-Intemational Harvester family. Mind you, that includes Farmall tractors, IH harvesters and crop machinery, Cub Cadet lawn tractors, and even International Harvester four-wheel drive vehicles.
The company’s early history is quite interesting, and, on occasion, entertaining.
“Certainly not all agreed that Cyrus McCormick was the first inventor of the reaper,” the authors note. “The earliest, loudest, and most persistent contention came on behalf of Obed Hussey.”
Hussey, after all, saw things differently, as shown in this early account attributed to him:
“I can prove my reaper to have been entirely successful as early as 1833, while my friend McCormick was so unsuccessful between 1831 and 1834 that his father and family advised him to abandon his reaper. He sold no machines until 1840, and his machines were of no practical value ’til 1845, while my reapers had been perfectly successful for 12 years.”
It’s just a bit of controversy, which the authors of International Harvester Farm Equipment lay to rest in their new book.
International Harvester Farm Equipment takes the reader on a journey of industrial and agricultural enterprise. The authors show how “a better mousetrap” fueled innovations in the company’s offerings. From the humble and innovative beginnings of Cyrus McCormick, one learns of the “teaming” and “partnering” – concepts more commonplace today than 100 years ago – with one of McCormick’s early competitors: International Harvester.
The book then turns to the tractor’s coming of age (focusing on the Farmall), and the resulting effect on agricultural progress. Next, the reader is shown how production demands drove technological innovation. This is seen in chapters such as “Tillage and Seedbed Preparation,” “Cultivation and Weed Control,” “Hay and Forage Harvesting,” “Harvest Mechanization,” and “Mechanical Cotton Harvest.” Toward the book’s end, though, the chapters shift to “Cub-ette: An Industry First” and “Industrial Equipment: The Other Yellow.”
What should one like most about this book? The facts! International Harvester Farm Equipment is basically an encyclopedia, waiting on the shelf for a lifetime of reference. Every step of the development of Cyrus McCormick’s innovations – from gadget to a fullblown agricultural equipment company – is described in exhaustive detail: Cream separators, Farmall tractors, rotating hoes, cultivators, reapers, plows, the company’s triumphs and failures. If you want a detailed account of this company’s history, you’ll get it in International Harvester Farm Equipment. It’s well worth a spot on the bookshelf of any serious farm collector. FC
International Harvester Farm Equipment, Motorbooks International, 1997; ISBN 0-929355-86-5; 400 pages, hard cover.
Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, Va.