McCormick, Cyrus H.

Born: 1809-02-15 Rockbridge County, Virginia

Died: 1884-05-13 Chicago, Illinois

Flourished: Chicago, Illinois

Cyrus H. McCormick was an inventor, manufacturer, and philanthropist. He received little formal education and instead learned from his father, who was also an inventor. In 1831, McCormick began designing a mechanical reaper whose elements became the model for all future versions of the implement, and he received a patent for his design three years later. He undertook improving and manufacturing his reaper in earnest after 1837, and following a decade of attempts to manufacture the reaper in Virginia, New York, and Ohio, McCormick established himself in Chicago in 1847 and rapidly built a national business. He instigated numerous lawsuits following the expiration of his patent in 1848, but despite the generally unfavorable outcomes of his legal battles, his business was extremely successful due to his talents in manufacturing and sales. When McCormick sued the firm Manny & Company for patent infringement in 1855, Abraham Lincoln was retained as a defense attorney on the case, but his fellow defense attorneys Edwin M. Stanton and George Harding blocked his participation in the trial. By 1860, McCormick’s company sold more reapers than any other in the United States and he ultimately amassed an estimated fortune of $10,000,000 and revolutionized farming practices. He married Nettie Fowler in 1858 and was survived by five children. Politically, McCormick was Democrat, supporting first Stephen A. Douglas then John C. Breckinridge for president in 1860. He ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Congress in Illinois’ First District in 1864. In religion, he was a Presbyterian.

Gary Scott Smith, “McCormick, Cyrus Hall,” American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 14:910-12; Herbert Anthony Kellar, “McCormick, Cyrus Hall,” Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1933), 11:607-9; U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Ward 9, Chicago, Cook County, IL, 424; McCormick v. Talcott et al., Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, 2d edition (Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2009),; McCormick v. Talcott et al., Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition,; Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, Cook County, 27 January 1858, Illinois State Archives, Springfield, IL; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Ward 8, Chicago, Cook County, IL, 136; The Chicago Daily Tribune (IL), 14 May 1884, 6:1-2; Gravestone, Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, IL.