First Reaper: The Beginning of Farm Mechanization

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

| May/June 1981

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.