Cyrus Hall McCormick: His Life and Work
By Herbert N. Casson
2001/10 - Beard Books
1587981076 - Paperback - Reprint - 324 pp.
The life and personality of the great nineteenth century inventor herald the peculiar genius of the nation in the grips of a new experience.
Here is a fascinating descriptive account of the man who invented the reaper, his life and the time in which he lived. The reaper was a major invention of the nineteenth century and contributed to the dawning of the industrial age. Told in spellbinding terms are the mechanical genius's early life on the farm, the events leading to the invention, as well as the role of the invention during the Civil War and its effect on the world scene.
From the back cover blurb:
Cyrus Hall McCormick was the inventor of the reaper which was designed to lighten the drudgery of the agricultural harvest and to reduce the need for farm labor. It was a major invention of the nineteenth century, and contributed to the dawning of the industrial age. Here is a fascinating descriptive account of the man, his life and the time in which he lived. Told in spell-binding terms are the mechanical genius' early life on the farm, the events leading to the invention, as we as the role of the invention during the Civil War and on the world scene. As an industrialist, his enterprising advertising to the effect that it would cost less for a farm to buy a reaper than not to buy one was most effective.
From Turnarounds and Workouts, March 15, 2002
Carroll W. Pursell, in his book Invention in America, contends that "(the most deeply affecting invention during the antebellum era in terms both of people's lives and of the development of the American economy was surely Cyrus McCormick's reaper." Not a surprising observation given that, well into the 19th century, harvesting was done with scythes and sickles the world over. Harvesting had forever been the most labor-intensive, time-sensitive, and backbreaking of all farm operations.
The first truly serviceable reaper appeared in 1826, and Cyrus McCormick introduced his superior version in 1831. Although McCormick's reaper was to revolutionize American agriculture, initially it met with derision. Farms in the Easter United States were generally too small and fields often too hilly to accommodate such a large machine.
In 1844, McCormick had $300 and the good sense to go West, where he found the vast plains to which his reaper was eminently suited. In 1847, he opened a factory in Chicago using state-of-the-art mass-production principles and provided a critical impetus for large-scale agriculture, American style. Sales skyrocketed.
McCormick was an innovative businessman. He pioneered the concepts of a "written guarantee," free trial, and clearly stated price. He led the way in the fledgling filed of advertising. One of his own favorite ads included a quote from a farmer who said his reaper had "more than paid for itself in one harvest."
A committed Calvinist and Presbyterian, McCormick founded Chicago's McCormick Theological Seminary. He dabbled in politics and was actively involved in the great nationwide debate on whether the rich agricultural lands of the West, fueled by his invention and the railroads, would be designated slave states or free.
Cyrus Hall McCormick: His Life and Work was first published in 1909. The book received positive reviews. The periodical Dial called the book the "life of the master builder of the modern business of manufacturing farm machinery.; His life, coincident with the pioneer era of replacing muscle with machinery, has been devoted to inventions that have revolutionized farm labor, and it is one of those rare life-histories that blazon out the peculiar genius of the nation under the stress of a new experience." The American Monthly Review of Reviews said the author "diligently collected and very attractively presented much historical and statistical matter concerning the development of agricultural implements and ...the rapid increase in the world's wheat production."
Herbert N. Casson provides a charming account of McCormick and the times in which he lived. He tells us of framers' insistence that iron implements poisoned the soil, as well as McCormick's motto, "One Step At a Time, The Hardest One First." He extols the courage and ingenuity of the country's founders as well as immigrants such as Eli Whitney, Andrew Carnegie, and Robert Fulton. He gives wonderful details about the London Exhibition of 1851 an the Great Chicago Fire. He tells us that McCormick, although a "big, red-blooded, great-hearted man," was "not always heroic" and had trouble keeping secretaries. He reports that McCormick's "energy was the wonder of his friends and the despair of his employees. His brain was not quick...but it was at work every waking moment, like a great engine that never tires."
More than a biography of a great inventor by a fervent admirer, this book shines with the author's staunch pride in his country's accomplishments and certainty of its brilliance.
From the American Monthly Review of Reviews, Vol. 40, p.755, Dec. 1909
Casson "has diligently collected and very attractively presented much historical and statistical matter concerning the development of agricultural implements and the... rapid increase in the world's wheat production. The life and personality of the great inventor are adequately set forth."
From Dial, Vol. 47, p. 184, September 16, 1909
"A life of the master builder of the modern business of manufacturing farm machinery. His life, coincident with the pioneer era of replacing muscle with machinery, has been devoted to inventions that have revolutionized farm labor and it is one of those 'rare life-histories that blazon out the peculiar genius of the nation under the stress of a new experience."
Herbert Newton Casson was a clergy man, journalist, business writer and consultant. He founded the company that would later become McCann-Erickson. He had published more than 170 publications, mostly interviews with business luminaries, most notable of which is Cyrus Hall McCormick, which he wrote upon the prodding of McCormick's widow.