CYRUS McCORMICK

Born FEBRUARY 15, 1809

His parents gave the Virginia-born inventor the first name of a Biblical king. Like the king, Cyrus Hall McCormick became a man God could use. God helped Cyrus solve one of agriculture’s greatest needs in the early 1800s. When he became a successful businessman, Cyrus shared the wealth to promote Christian education.

Cyrus Hall McCormick [PD-1923]

Cyrus Hall McCormick [PD-1923]

THE YOUNG INVENTOR

Cyrus McCormick was raised on a farm. He grew up working for his father Robert on their 1,800 acres of land. Robert had a sharp business mind. He ran gristmills, sawmills, and a blacksmith shop, creating tools as he needed. Cyrus learned from Robert while laboring alongside him in the family’s log workshop. Robert’s biggest creative disappointment later became Cyrus’ greatest success.

Seven-year-old Cyrus watched his father demon-strate a machine to reap the family wheat harvest. So did the neighbors. It was an embarrassing failure. Robert labored in secret for another decade and a half before giving up. In 1831, Cyrus spent six weeks rethinking and reworking his father’s abandoned design. That July, he led his parents and siblings to a wheat field and demonstrated a perfected horse-drawn reaper.

The machine made a lot of noise but successfully cut and sorted the wheat. In his first public demonstration off the family farm, Cyrus’ reaper did the work of six men swing-ing scythes. Laborers who stood to lose their jobs criticized the invention. But Cyrus’ machine would soon revolutionize the primitive, early 1800s world of farming.

INVESTING IN THE FUTURE

Cyrus’ spiritual life changed when he was 25. He attended a series of church services one week with his parents and siblings. He did not indicate as others did on the final night that he wanted to follow Jesus. Later, at home, he and his father discussed the matter. The following Sunday, Cyrus made a public confession of faith. 

He began reproducing and selling reapers in the 1840s. Business began slowly. Then other states made requests for his “Virginia Reaper.” That created a new challenge. The length of time needed to transport one to another state sometimes delayed it from arriving when needed. That problem led Cyrus to another important decision.

The Chicago factory (1909) [PD-1923]

The Chicago factory (1909) [PD-1923]

Cyrus chose to move to the young city of Chicago. He built a factory there. He would become wealthy from investments in land before doing so from his life-changing invention. After he made his first million, he knew how he wanted to spend it.

McCormick Theological Seminary [PD-1923]

McCormick Theological Seminary [PD-1923]

Cyrus’ faith guided him. He gave $100,000 toward the founding of a school to train pastors. What was originally named Northwestern Theological Seminary was later renamed McCormick Theologi-cal Seminary.

INTERNATIONAL FIELDS

Cyrus developed new advertising ideas. He offered the reaper on a trial basis, promising a with a money-back guarantee. He also took out large-sized newspaper ads marketed to farmers. Those ideas increased business. Establishing sales overseas was a different story.

The McCormick Reaper proving its worth. [PD-1923]

The McCormick Reaper proving its worth. [PD-1923]

In England he showed his invention at the 1851 London Exhibition (the first world’s fair). A farmer who saw it on display requested to see it operate in his field. The acclaim Cyrus won from that demonstration allowed him to market his reaper to England’s land-owning nobility.

At the Paris International Exhibition in 1855, Cyrus’ reaper received the Grand Medal of Honor. Whenever demonstrated in other European countries, honors and prizes came his way. God had given Cyrus the insight to create one of the world’s most important farming tools. His reaper not only allowed farmers to plant more because they could gather it faster, it also brought agriculture into the machine age.

AGAINST THE ODDS

The original patent for Cyrus’ reaper expired in 1848. Competitors took advantage of his situation. For years, Cyrus had to fight in court for the rights to his invention. Some copied his pattern and sold inferior machines. Some launched campaigns to prevent his patent’s renewal.  

At age forty-nine, the agricultural pioneer finally married. Nancy’s devout Christian faith fit hand in hand with Cyrus’ faith. They eventually had seven children.

Rebuilding after the Chicago Fire. [PD-1923]

Rebuilding after the Chicago Fire. [PD-1923]

The 1871, the Chicago Fire burned Cyrus’ reaper factory to the ground. Cyrus and Nancy had to make a decision. At age 62, should he retire or rebuild? They chose to relaunch their business and to help the rest of Chicago emerge from the ashes.

Cyrus’ favorite scripture was the conclusion of Romans chapter eight. It begins with “What shall separate us from the love of God?” and concludes by stating that no power nor problem existing now or in the future possibly can.

REAPING THE HARVEST

Along with what is today McCormick Theological seminary, Cyrus gave generously  to the causes of D. L. Moody. In 1869, Cyrus contributed $10,000 to the construction of a YMCA. He later gave $100,000 toward Mr. Moody’s Bible institute. Cyrus helped plant. Others watered. God has given the increase.

A stroke put Cyrus in a wheelchair the last few years of his life. He passed away in Chicago in 1884. His contributions to mankind helped farmers around the world feed the hungry and helped Bible training institutions equip those who would feed others spiritually.

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LET ME KNOW:  How has Cyrus’ story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped  you? I welcome your comments.

Bibliography——————————————————————————————-

  • Casson, Herbert Newton. Cyrus Hall McCormick: His Life and Work. Chicago: A. C. McClurg and Company, 1909.
  • Woodbridge, John D., ed. More Than Conquerors. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1992.

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About William E. Richardson

I'm married to a wonderful woman named Deb. We're the parents of a son and daughter who bring great joy to our lives. I currently pastor the Assembly of God church in Afton, Iowa.
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