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Cyrus McCormick revolutionized the farming industry in 1831 by inventing the McCormick (also called the Virginia reaper) reaper, an odd looking machine that saved hours of work for farmers and their employees. At the time, 90 percent of the United States population were farmers. Because the machine and more advanced machines saved so much time, today only 2 percent of the people in the U.S. are farmers. As a result of this change, people began looking toward other fields: industry, science, and the arts, in order to improve the quality of life in those areas as well.

Cyrus was one of five children and was born in 1809. His father Robert McCormick owned different businesses, which included grain mills, a distillery, and a sawmill. Robert always enjoyed tinkering with machines and started trying to build a reaper himself.

But he soon stopped his efforts, and Cyrus perfected the machine over a six-week period in 1831, with the help of Jo Anderson. It took three years to perfect the machine, and he finally got a patent for it in 1834. He continued improving it and sold the first two machines in 1840. The Middle West was the grain belt of the nation, and McCormick opened a manufacturing facility in 1847. His brothers William and Leander were his partners in the business. It wasn’t long before the plant was getting many orders. As time went on, the factory produced many mowers and reapers and began expanding its product line to include other tools to make the hard work of farming easier.

While some people had patented similar machines in Europe, McCormick’s reaper was the one that wound up winning the Gold Medal at London’s Crystal Palace Exhibition seventeen years later in 1851. Cyrus received attention from people all over the world. The reaper gave farmers the ability to harvest more grain and fiber than ever before, transforming the industry forever. Cyrus McCormick died in Chicago in 1884.

McCormick’s Virginia farm is open to the public. There’s a grist mill and blacksmith shop, and the museum has a life-sized replica of the original reaper, as well as scale models of later versions and early farm implements.