McCormick tractors are a part of Americana. They can be recognized as the iconic "Big Red" farm tractors plowing fields, harvesting crops and hooked up to a wagon for a hay ride. The company was founded by Cyrus McCormick of Rockbridge, VA in 1834 when he patented the first mechanical reaper. Cyrus McCormick also developed the first mechanical combine and first baler (hay baler) that used steel twine. Cyrus McCormick was a leader in agricultural mechanization as both an inventor and a businessperson.
Cyrus McCormick established himself as an innovative businessman in 1842 by offering the first satisfaction guarantee to his customers. If they were not happy with the equipment they could return it for a full refund. The blacksmith in Walnut Grove, VA could no longer keep pace with the demand for orders. In 1847, Mr. McCormick began a partnership with C. M. Gray and built a factory on the north bank of the Chicago River. This is now the headquarters for International Harvester on Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL. McCormick's Reapers became one of the largest employers in Chicago, employing 123 people out of a population of 17,000.
From 1851 until 1881, Cyrus McCormick won many awards internationally for his inventions. Cyrus McCormick died in May 1884. His brother, Leander McCormick had partnered with him in 1856 and led the company to produce 54,841 tractors. 1902 Cyrus McCormick, Jr., took over the company and with several other equipment manufacturing companies and formed International Harvester. 1906 saw International Harvest become a tractor manufacturer, shipping 14 tractors across the United States.
The combine (combination harvester thresher) was launched on the market in 1915. The McCormick Farmall tractor was designed and manufactured in 1916. By 1922 the Farmall tractor was considered the tractor that industrialized farming in the United States. In 1926, McCormick Tractors' manufacturing moved to Doncaster, Yorkshire, England. During World War II the plant was converted to produce military equipment as a part of the war effort.
Since reopening in 1949, McCormick Tractors and International Harvester have continued the innovative trend started by Cyrus McCormick. Both the British and American production lines are still in production, though under different parent companies. International Harvester is now produced under Case International (1985). Argo, an Italian company, purchased the Doncaster plant and produces tractors as McCormick International. Early in the 21st century (2001), McCormick International USA began selling the first American made tractors (all tractors designed after the Farmall were manufactured in England). 2009 saw the company combine its manufacturing plants from around the United States to Northcross, GA.
McCormick changed the way large scale (commercial) farming is practiced. By taking his father's initial design for a reaper and modifying it, he mechanized harvesting. As technology, such as gasoline engines, became available the McCormick Company continued to use the innovative ideas of the company founder to industrialize farming. Farmers could grow larger crops with ease.
Cyrus McCormick also initiated advanced marketing ideas that are still used by many companies today across many different fields. He offered the first written warranty, provided training and education to his customers on to use the equipment they purchased. He used widespread advertising such as billboards to expand his business and trained a sales force to go door to door. He is also credited with being one of the first to use collection agents to obtain past due payments.
McCormick tractors are used around the world. England and the United States were the first to put them into full production and use early in the 20th century. There are manufacturing plants located in the United States, England and Italy. McCormick International, McCormick International USA and Case (formerly International Harvester) are one the world's largest producers of tractors and farm equipment.
Cyrus McCormick's Farm
The original farm is now a historical landmark located just outside Lexington, VA. The farm is where Cyrus was born and created the reaper. Located on the property is a small museum, blacksmith shop, grist mill, picnic area and nature trail. Admission is free. This historical landmark is easily accessed from two main interstates in the area (Interstate 81 and Interstate 64).