The mere names of scores of modern instruments of farming, all unknown in Civil War days--hay carriers, hay loaders, hay stackers, manure spreaders, horse corn planters, corn drills, disk harrows, disk ploughs, steam ploughs, tractors, and the like--give some suggestion of the extent to which America has made mechanical the most ancient of occupations. In thus transforming agriculture, we have developed not only our own Western plains, but we have created new countries. Argentina could hardly exist today except for American agricultural machinery. Ex-President Loubet declared, a few years ago, that France would starve to death except for the farming machines that were turned out in Chicago. There is practically no part of the world where our self-binders are not used. In many places America is not known as the land of freedom and opportunity, but merely as "the place from which the reapers come." The traveler suddenly comes upon these familiar agents in every European country, in South America, in Egypt, China, Algiers, Siberia, India, Burma, and Australia. For agricultural machinery remains today, what it has always been, almost exclusively an American manufacture. It is practically the only native American product that our European competitors have not been able to imitate. Tariff walls, bounty systems, and all the other artificial aids to manufacturing have not developed this industry in foreign lands, and today the United States produces four-fifths of all the agricultural machinery used in the world. The International Harvester Company has its salesmen in more than fifty countries, and has established large American factories in many nations of Europe.
One day, a few years before his death, Prince Bismarck was driving on his estate, closely following a self-binder that had recently been put to work. The venerable statesman, bent and feeble, seemed to find a deep melancholy interest in the operation.
"Show me the thing that ties the knot," he said. It was taken to pieces and explained to him in detail. "Can these machines be made in Germany?" he asked.
"No, your Excellency," came the reply. "They can be made only in America."
The old man gave a sigh. "Those Yankees are ingenious fellows," he said. "This is a wonderful machine."
In this story of American success, four names stand out preeminently. The men who made the greatest contributions were Cyrus H. McCormick, C. W. Marsh, Charles B. Withington, and John F. Appleby. The name that stands foremost, of course, is that of McCormick, but each of the others made additions to his invention that have produced the present finished machine. It seems like the stroke of an ironical fate which decreed that since it was the invention of a Northerner, Eli Whitney, that made inevitable the Civil War, so it was the invention of a Southerner, Cyrus McCormick, that made inevitable the ending of that war in favor of the North. McCormick was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, on a farm about eighteen miles from Staunton. He was a child of that pioneering Scotch-Irish race which contributed so greatly to the settlement of this region and which afterward made such inestimable additions to American citizenship. The country in which he grew up was rough and, so far as the conventionalities go, uncivilized; the family homestead was little more than a log cabin; and existence meant a continual struggle with a not particularly fruitful soil. The most remarkable figure in the McCormick home circle, and the one whose every-day life exerted the greatest influence on the boy, was his father. The older McCormick had one obsessing idea that made him the favorite butt of the local humorists. He believed that the labor spent in reaping grain was a useless expenditure of human effort and that machinery might be made to do the work. Other men, in this country and in Europe, had nourished similar notions. Several Englishmen had invented reaping machines, all of which had had only a single defect--they would not reap. An ingenious English actor had developed a contrivance which would cut imitation wheat on the stage, but no one had developed a machine that would work satisfactorily in real life.