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<2>The Father of Modern Agriculture
My father was a farmer, my grandfather was an inventor, these were the words of my grandmother, Lavonne Holland. She was speaking proudly about my great-great grandfather, the inventor, Cyrus Hall McCormick (1809-1884). She also told me, Not many people know who Cyrus McCormick is these days, but his memory will live forever in the fields of waving grain(Holland). The most important thing my Grandmother said to me was, In the generations around that of my great grandfathers, the planting of grain was dependant only on the ability of the reapers to gather the grain by hand(Holland). Which meant the crop size was limited to how much that was possible to cut, and the failure of a small crop could have meant famine for that family. However all of this was soon to change, new mechanical inventions would help to change the face of farming forever. This paper will only begin to emphasize a few of the major contributions of Cyrus McCormick the man who is commonly known as, the father of modern agriculture.
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Cyrus Hall McCormick was born near Lexington, Virginia in 1809. One can only imagine how he spent his free time as a boy on his familys 532-acre farm known as walnut grove(McCormick). He must have spent countless hours watching his father, Robert McCormick, tinkering with the mechanical reaping machine of his dreams. Unfortunately for Robert, he would never turn his dreams of a mechanical reaping machine into reality (McCormick). It did not take long for young Cyrus to catch the dream of his father. He was determined to make an accomplishment out of his fathers failure. Through his gift of genius he would turn that dream into reality, and would remove the fear of famine from the world. In 1831, his efforts were rewarded, when he held the first demonstration of his mechanical reaper. He proved he could harvest fifteen times more grain than by hand (McCormick). Despite all of this, for many years Cyrus McCormick could not sell a single mechanical reaper. Farmers had been reaping by hand for generations and they were bound to their customs, they were afraid of this new technology.
After ten years of further advancements McCormick had finally perfected his mechanical reaper. He now had so much confidence in his machine that he offered a guarantee on its productivity, and his business finally started to pick up (Brenner). McCormick soon realized that the future of agriculture would stretch far beyond the Mississippi river, so in 1846 he moved his business from Virginia to the city of Chicago, where it grew tremendously (McCormick). McCormick still had to face many great challenges, for many years he battled in court defending his patent rights; he even lost a case to the young lawyer Abraham Lincoln (Brenner). Then in 1871 he lost everything in the Chicago fire (McCormick). At this point many men would have given up, sold the patent, and retired. Here McCormick gives us another lesson, he never faltered in the face of opposition, and more importantly he never gave up in his dream to serve the people of his country.
The invention of the mechanical reaper had only accomplished a small part of Cyrus McCormicks work. He also forewarned the world that his mechanical reaper, and the machines he knew that would follow in the future would replace the horse and plow. McCormick established many innovative marketing and distribution techniques, still widely in use today (McCormick). He was willing to sell on a small up front cash payment, because he knew that his mechanical reaper would provide for future payments. This of course is commonly known today as installment paying. Cyrus McCormick furthered his practical approach by making replacement parts easy to acquire anywhere around the world, similar to the part distributor stores of today (Brenner). These revolutionary ideas started a new business culture, which placed more value on the customers needs, and more trust in the products.
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McCormicks original mechanical reaper may look like an ancient and crude machine to most people, but it was a predecessor to the great fleet of reapers, binders, and combines that changed the world forever. Cyrus McCormicks mechanical reaper actually started the paradigm of mechanical farming. His achievements satisfy both characteristics of Thomas S. Kuhns definition of paradigms from his article The Route to Normal Science (165). Specifically, McCormicks invention, attracted a large group of farmers away from the customs of traditional farming, the reaper also used basic fundamentals, which are still in use in todays grain cutting machines. Cyrus McCormicks mechanical reaper also satisfies the term normal science, used by Kuhn in his article (164). Specifically, the mechanical reaper led to other machines built by the McCormick Harvester Company, such as the self-rake, and the automatic binder (Brenner). The reaper also supplied the foundation for many new generations of farming machines.
Cyrus McCormicks invention of the mechanical reaper made it possible for fewer farmers to cultivate much more grain, in much less time. Cyrus McCormick not only totally redefined the struggling business of agriculture, his mechanical reaper also greatly helped to strengthen the growing businesses of American industry. In 1831 most of the American population was directly involved in some kind of farming. Today only a small percentage of the population grow more food than the whole country can consume. The machines built by Cyrus McCormick and his successors, which now are known to harvest hundreds of acres a day, have enabled many Americans to seek futures in any field that they choose. This was not true for our ancestors who were greatly restricted in what they could do with their lives. The invention of the reaper, over time, turned many small family-farming communities into large-scale farms, and allowed many people to seek employment in the cities.
This paper could have been titled, Cyrus McCormicks reaper and its impact on farming, however the reaper not only affected farming, it changed the entire world. McCormick himself could have never foreseen the impact that his invention would have on the entire world. The contributions of Cyrus McCormick affected many aspects of our current culture and business world. The story of Cyrus McCormick is the story of the worlds emancipation from farm labor. For centuries men and women had spent many long backbreaking hours laboring in the fields, fields not limited by how much grain that could be grown, but limited by how much grain that could be cut. It is important to look back in time to understand how technology has changed our lives, and to give credit to the founders of technology.
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