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First Reaper: The Beginning of Farm Mechanization

Cyrus Hall McCormick takes the first step toward farm mechanization with the first reaper

| May/June 1981

  • McCormick harvester and twine binder
    The McCormick harvester and twine binder, maufactured in 1881, was the first binder which tied the bundles with twine. After the development of this machine only minor developments, tending to give greater durability and lighter draft, were added.
  • Excerpts of the patent grant
    Pictured are excerpts of the patent grant from the U.S. Patent Office to Cyrus Hall McCormick for his reaper, patented June 21, 1S34. Shown at left is drawing of reaper. Closing paragraphs of patent recite McCormick's claim for the arrangement of several parts to constitute his reaper, the method of cutting by means of a vibrating blade, and the method of gathering and bringing the grain back to the cutter and delivering it on the apron or platform by means of a reel, movable to any height to suit the grain, and the platform to hold the grain until collected for a sheaf.
  • Forge shop
    The forge shop on the McCormick farm in Walnut Grove, Rockbridge County, Virginia, as it appeared when Cyrus Hall McCormick invented the reaper. The reaper in its early stage can be seen in the foreground. The forge shop, which still stands, has been designated a registered national historic landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior.

  • McCormick harvester and twine binder
  • Excerpts of the patent grant
  • Forge shop

Cyrus Hall McCormick, a 22-year-old Virginian, gave America its first step toward farm mechanization when he invented the reaper 150 years ago this spring.

He first showed it publicly in July 1831, in a field near Steele's Tavern, not far from the valley of Walnut Grove, where the family farm lay.

McCormick walked behind the reaper, which was drawn by a single horse ridden by a boy. Jo Anderson, a slave, raked the platform clear of cut grain.

Neither McCormick nor any of those on the field or watching could have had any idea of what lay ahead how eventually all field operations of American farmers, and farmers over most of the world, would be performed through the use of machinery.

McCormick was not satisfied with this first reaper. He did not seek a patent until 1834. In the meantime Obed Hussey, a Maryland inventor, obtained a patent for a reaper. McCormick obtained his first patent on June 21, 1834.

Continuing his experiments through 1841, McCormick sold seven reapers in 1842. By 1843, he sold 29, and in 1844 he sold 50.


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