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Cyrus McCormick: man of industry

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

In 1820, about 70 percent of the U.S. population lived and worked on farms. Then came Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the mechanical reaper and modern agriculture.

So, how did McCormick change the face of agriculture in America?
  • He thought logically but creatively. Because reaping is so tricky, McCormick figured out how various stages could be mechanized. A single man could reap an acre a day by hand; with the machine he could reap up to eight acres.

  • He kept at it. In 1831, when McCormick first demonstrated the reaper, its noise panicked the horses. One observer thought the machine was worth riches, while another thought it wouldn’t amount to much. McCormick didn’t sell one reaper for 10 years.

  • He continued innovating and improving, even before making any sales. In 1842, he sold seven reapers. By 1848, although he failed to win a patent extension, his innovations gave him a competitive edge over others who’d started manufacturing reapers.

  • He picked a boomtown. Visiting the Midwest from his home in Virginia, McCormick found the perfect setting for his business. He moved to the small town of Chicago in 1847 and started building a factory to produce reapers.

  • He invested heavily in machinery and research to become the low-cost producer, and he didn’t stint on labor costs, either. He paid good wages to lure and keep the best workers, and he cooperated with their unions.

  • He offered credit, realizing that farmers are constantly strapped for cash. The reapers started selling in greater numbers: about a thousand a year in the five years after the factory opened in 1848. Sales soared in the 1850s.
By 1860, McCormick was rich. The company he founded, which became American Harvester, changed both the economy and the landscape of America.

— Adapted from “We Reap What He Reaped,” John Steele Gordon, American Heritage.

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