An awakened public conscience has effectively ended the alliance between politics and franchise corporations and the type of syndicate described in the foregoing pages belongs as much to our American past as that rude frontier civilization with which, after all, it had many characteristics in common.
CHAPTER VI. MAKING THE WORLD'S AGRICULTURAL MACHINERY
The Civil War in America did more than free the negro slave: it freed the white man as well. In the Civil War agriculture, for the first time in history, ceased to be exclusively a manual art. Up to that time the typical agricultural laborer had been a bent figure, tending his fields and garnering his crops with his own hands. Before the war had ended the American farmer had assumed an erect position; the sickle and the scythe had given way to a strange red chariot, which, with practically no expenditure of human labor, easily did the work of a dozen men. Many as have been America's contributions to civilization, hardly any have exerted greater influence in promoting human welfare than her gift of agricultural machinery. It seems astounding that, until McCormick invented his reaper, in 1831, agricultural methods, in both the New and the Old World, differed little from those that had prevailed in the days of the Babylonians. The New England farmer sowed his fields and reaped his crops with almost identically the same instruments as those which had been used by the Roman farmer in the time of the Gracchi. Only a comparatively few used the scythe; the great majority, with crooked backs and bended knees, cut the grain with little hand sickles precisely like those which are now dug up in Etruscan and Egyptian tombs.
Though McCormick had invented his reaper in 1831, and though many rival machines had appeared in the twenty years preceding the Civil War, only the farmers on the great western plains had used the new machinery to any considerable extent. The agricultural papers and agricultural fairs had not succeeded in popularizing these great laborsaving devices. Labor was so abundant and so cheap that the farmer had no need of them. But the Civil War took one man in three for the armies, and it was under this pressure that the farmers really discovered the value of machinery. A small boy or girl could mount a McCormick reaper and cut a dozen acres of grain in a day. This circumstance made it possible to place millions of soldiers in the field and to feed the armies from farms on which mature men did very little work. But the reaper promoted the Northern cause in other ways. Its use extended so in the early years of the war that the products of the farms increased on an enormous scale, and the surplus, exported to Europe, furnished the liquid capital that made possible the financing of the war. Europe gazed in astonishment at a new spectacle in history; that of a nation fighting the greatest war which had been known up to that time, employing the greater part of her young and vigorous men in the armies, and yet growing infinitely richer in the process. The Civil War produced many new implements of warfare, such as the machine gun and the revolving turret for battleships, but, so far as determining the result was concerned, perhaps the most important was the reaper.
Extensive as the use of agricultural machinery became in the Civil War, that period only faintly foreshadowed the development that has taken place since. The American farm is today like a huge factory; the use of the hands has almost entirely disappeared; there are only a few operations of husbandry that are not performed automatically. In Civil War days the reaper merely cut the grain; now machinery rakes it up and binds it into sheaves and threshes it. Similar mechanisms bind corn and rice. Machinery is now used to plant potatoes; grain, cotton, and other farm products are sown automatically. The husking bees that formed one of our social diversions in Civil War days have disappeared, for particular machines now rip the husks off the ears. Horse hay-forks and horse hayrakes have supplanted manual labor.