Cyrus McCormick Biography

Cyrus McCormick, an American industrialist and inventor, revolutionized agriculture with his invention of the mechanical reaper. Despite limited formal education, Cyrus displayed a natural talent for mechanics and took over his father’s project to build a reaper. Through numerous improvements and innovative business practices, he established the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, which became the largest farm equipment manufacturing firm in the country. Even after facing competition and the destruction of his factory in the great Chicago fire, Cyrus rebuilt and expanded his business. Beyond his entrepreneurial success, Cyrus also played a significant role in Presbyterian causes and Democratic politics. His contributions to the mechanization of agriculture will forever be remembered.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Маккормик, Сайрус
  • Died At Age: 75
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Nancy Fowler McCormick
    • Father: Robert McCormick
    • Siblings: Leander J. McCormick
    • Children: Cyrus McCormick, Harold Fowler McCormick, Jr.
  • Philanthropists
  • Business People
  • Died on: May 13, 1884
  • Place of death: Chicago
  • Founder/Co-Founder: International Harvester, McCormick Theological Seminary, Navistar International

Childhood & Early Life

Cyrus Hall McCormick was born on February 15, 1809, in Rockbridge County, Virginia, U.S. His parents were Robert McCormick, a farmer and inventor, and Mary Ann “Polly” Hall. He was the eldest of eight children in his family. Despite receiving limited education from local schools, Cyrus showed a creative edge from a young age and spent most of his time in his father’s workshop. His father, Robert, had invented several practical farm implements but had failed in his attempt to build a successful reaping machine.


In 1831, when Robert gave up on the idea, Cyrus took on the task of building a reaper. After making several changes to his father’s original design, Cyrus successfully constructed a reaping machine and demonstrated it in Virginia in 1831. He continued to work on improving the machine, increasing its capacity and enhancing its mechanism. In June 1834, he patented the invention, but was unable to sell any machines as they were unable to handle varying conditions.

The McCormick family also had an iron foundry and operated in the metal smelting business. However, they faced financial difficulties, which culminated in the Panic of 1837, causing the foundry to fail and leaving the family in debt. Cyrus then focused on further improving his mechanical reaper in order to turn it into a business. In 1844, he sold 50 reapers after continuously working to enhance the machine.

In 1845, Cyrus patented a second design of his improved reaper and in 1847, he established a factory in Chicago with financial help from the mayor, William Ogden. The factory, known as the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, sold 800 machines in its first year. However, Cyrus faced competition regarding patent issues with other inventors. In 1848, his patent renewal request was denied, and the basic machine passed into the public domain. To overcome his competitors, Cyrus implemented innovative business practices and used creative marketing techniques to boost sales.

With the development of railroads, Cyrus expanded his business and introduced his mechanical reapers to European farmers. By 1856, the McCormick Company was selling over 4,000 machines a year.

During the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the McCormick factory was destroyed. However, Cyrus’s wife encouraged him to rebuild the company, and in 1873, a new factory was opened with increased capacity. Cyrus handed over control of the company to his son, Cyrus McCormick, Jr., in 1880.

Major Works

Cyrus McCormick’s most significant contribution was his invention of the first commercially successful reaping machine, which effectively mechanized grain harvesting. This invention revolutionized the agricultural industry by increasing productivity and reducing the reliance on manual labor. He established his own reaper manufacturing factory in Chicago in 1847, which became a leader in producing agricultural equipment.

Awards & Achievements

In 1851, McCormick’s reaper won the Gold Medal at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London. In 1878, he was elected to the prestigious French Academy of Sciences for his contributions to agriculture. In 1975, Cyrus McCormick was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame.

Personal Life & Legacy

In January 1858, Cyrus McCormick married Nancy “Nettie” Fowler, his secretary. They had seven children together. In his later years, Cyrus suffered from paralysis and passed away on May 13, 1884, at his home in Chicago, Illinois. He was buried in Graceland Cemetery. In addition to his contributions as an inventor and industrialist, McCormick was also involved in philanthropic activities and played an active role in the Presbyterian Church and the Democratic Party. He was the principal benefactor in establishing the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

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