Hundreds of attempts failed until, in 1874, Charles B. Withington of Janesville, Wisconsin, brought to McCormick a mechanism composed of two steel arms which seized the grain, twisted a wire around it, cut the wire, and tossed the completed sheaf to the earth. In actual practice this contrivance worked with the utmost precision. Finally American farmers had a machine that cut the grain, raked it up, and bound it into sheaves ready for the mill. Human labor had apparently lost its usefulness; a solitary man or woman, perched upon a seat and driving a pair of horses, now performed all these operations of husbandry.

By this time, scores of manufacturers had entered the field in opposition to McCormick, but his acquisition of Withington's invention had apparently made his position secure. Indeed, for the next ten years he had everything his own way. Then suddenly an ex-keeper of a drygoods store in Maine crossed his path. This was William Deering, a character quite as energetic, forceful, and pugnacious as was McCormick himself. Though McCormick had made and sold thousands of his selfbinders, farmers were already showing signs of discontent. The wire proved a continual annoyance. It mingled with the straw and killed the cattle--at least so the farmers complained; it cut their hands and even found its way, with disastrous results, into the flour mills. Deering now appeared as the owner of a startling invention by John F. Appleby. This did all that the Withington machine did and did it better and quicker; and it had the great advantage that it bound with twine instead of wire. The new machine immediately swept aside all competitors; McCormick, to save his reaper from disaster, presently perfected a twine binder of his own. The appearance of Appleby's improvement in 1884 completes the cycle of the McCormick reaper on its mechanical side The harvesting machine of fifty nations today is the one to which Appleby put the final touches in 1884. Since then nothing of any great importance has been added.

This outline of invention, however, comprises only part of the story. The development of the reaper business presents a narrative quite as adventurous as that of the reaper itself. Cyrus McCormick was not only a great inventor; he was also a great businessman. So great was his ability in this direction, indeed, that there has been a tendency to discredit his achievements as a creative genius and to attribute his success to his talents as an organizer and driver of industry. "I may make a million dollars from this reaper," said McCormick, in the full tide of enthusiasm over his invention; and these words indicate an indispensable part of his program. He had no miserly instinct but he had one overpowering ambition. It was McCormick's conviction, almost religious in its fervor, that the harvester business of the world belonged to him. As already indicated, plenty of other hardy spirits, many of them almost as commanding personalities as himself, disputed the empire. Not far from 12,000 patents on harvesting machines were granted in this country in the fifty years following McCormick's invention, and more than two hundred companies were formed to compete for the market. McCormick always regarded these competitors as highwaymen who had invaded a field which had been almost divinely set apart for himself. A man of covenanting antecedents, heroic in his physical proportions, with a massive, Jove-like head and beard, tirelessly devoted to his work, watching every detail with a microscopic eye, marshaling a huge force of workers who were as possessed by this one overruling idea as was McCormick himself, he certainly presented an almost unassailable battlefront to his antagonists. The competition that raged between McCormick and the makers of rival machines was probably the fiercest that has prevailed in any American industry. For marketing his machine McCormick developed a system almost as ingenious as the machine itself. The popularization of so ungainly and expensive a contrivance as the harvester proved a slow and difficult task. McCormick at first attempted to build his product on his Virginia farm and for many years it was known as the Virginia Reaper. Nearly ten years passed, however, before he sold his first machine.

The Age of Big Business Page 49

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