McCormick Reaper and Mower Company I
Life Span: 1846-1871
Location: North bank of the Chicago River, east of Rush Street Bridge
Chicago Tribune, April 6, 1859
We not unfrequently, and always with gratification, are called upon, in the course of our rambles about the city, to refer to the manufacturing interests of Chicago, and invariably as with reason, do we urge the importance of our position as a manufacturing point. We hail each accession to the number of individual or corporate enterprises looking in this direction. The time will come when the vast system of railroads, here centering, and the far-reaching advantages of Lake and Canal navigation shall give life and activity to hundreds of large establishments yet to be erected representing the various fields of manufacture. We are setting in that direction already. High rents have built us a city with a celerity that almost realizes Aladdin, but hitherto they have driven away the masnufacturerm and the mechanic here seeking a home.
While this is the case, and we are yet to occupy the firld now scarcely opened, the manufacturing era, we have within a few days past visited an establishment which, got a dozen years past, has occupied a prominent, and long a pioneer place in our manufactures.
For more than the period named, or since 1846, the Reaper and Mower Manufactory of C. H. McCormick, Esq., has been a fixed fact here, and not only as compared with all classes of our manufacture but more appropriately with its special class and department in the country at large, it has presented a history uniformly prosperous, and ever marked with the abundant proofs of energy, enterprise and skill in its management, and that with scarcely a parallel.
The first erected of the present structures now standing on the extensive yards of Mr. McCormick, on the north side of the river, below Rush street bridge, was built in 1846. It has been added to from time to time. Other structures have risen beside it, until with the fine five-story Milwaukee brick stores and warehouses erected the last season, the Reaper Works comprise five buildings of from two to five stories each, all furnishing an aggregate of one hundred and ten thousand superficial feet of floor area. The yard has a river dock of about three hundred feet, with a street front on North Water street. The shipping and receiving facilities thus enjoyed are of immense value in an establishment of this class.
The reader accepted let us believe, our invitation for a stroll through the Works with W. S. McCormick, Esq., brother of the proprietor, and for ten years manager of the Finance and General Control of the establishment.
We do not propose to tarry long in the office among the busy clerks and bookkeepers, but that little will supply us with a hint as to how much sytem can and does accomplish. Here in this Reaper office are exhibited not only the mathematical but the geographical accessories and aids to successful business. Maps representing the chief grain and hemp growing regions of this country are made to know new subdivisions as the field of the Agents of McCormick’s Reaper and Mower, and by each name is a little column of figures giving the sales of successive years.
There are also souvenirs of the great World Exhibition, at London, when the McCormick’s Reaper, and the Collins Line of steamers and the yacht America bore away envied palms.
The Reaver and Mower have done for the harvest and hay field what steam has done for traveling, and the power loom with the hand loom, interposed wooden and iron muscles and iron sinews for slower hand labor.
The McCormick Reaper when it was first patented on June 21, 1834, the product was not useable. After improvements, he was able to sell his first reaper in 1840. He was then awarded a new patent on January 31,1845 (above). However, when he tried to renew it in 1848, the USPTO noticed that Obed Hussey, born to Quaker parents, had been awarded a similar patent, a few months before Cyrus’ patent. As a result of this, the patent was denied. Since the McCormick brothers have been selling reapers since 1840, and was already established they drove Hussey out of business.
From the office we enter the mechanical department under the care for the last decade of years, of L. J. McCormick, another of the brothers, who has from the fruits of his skill and ingenuity added great simplicity of detail and force and readiness of execution in his department. The number of hands now employed is as follows:
And this force has been kept full, or nearly so, throughout the entire period of the general depression of business, which in the wide-spread disasters and distresses of manufacturers universally, can be said of few other manufactories in the country.
The shops for working in wood and metal and exclusively for these Reapers and Mowing Machines, contain about one hundred pieces of machinery of the best and most costly description, punches and drills, and machines that seem the happiest when permitted to crunch off huge bars of iron as your boy his candy.
We have in previous issue spoken of the engine by which the works are driven, a superb affair, of Thurston, Gardiner & Co., Providence, R.I., which with the most satisfactory working of the large amount of heavy machinery, is a charmingly abstemious devourer of fuel to an economy scarcely credible, by means of which virtue, one hundred dollars in a year are paid for coal, the boiler, of the upright pattern, contentedly consuming waste chips and shavings of the rooms of the workers in wood to the double advantage of cleanliness and lessening the danger of fire from the presence of such material.
And here reference deserves to be made to the unusual and strict precautions and care taken to guard against fire, both by fire proof doors connecting the departments and also by watchmen both night and day, one ir the other being constantly on duty to guard against all possibility of accident.
Everything pertaining to the Reaper and Mower, save a small maileable iron finger, is made and shaped on the premises from the rough pig, the bars of Sheffield steel, and the rough ash, whitewood and pine timber. Thus the castings, the sickles, brass and combination metal boxes, bolts, screws, nuts, together with the wood work and painting are done upon the premises, and all with an economy, a perfection of system that makes the whole transaction of business, even through such varied channels, transparent and out-spread before the eye of the manager as before our own at the office in tables weekly and monthly recorded. This is shown best in the weekly and monthly Foundry reports, which give the actual cost of each pound of iron casting under the heads of
The exhibit in its general features of minuteness will apply to the whole establishment of Mr. McCormick, and the hint may prove of value if rightly improved by those who even in smaller operations would realize the advantages sure to follow from its adoption.
In mining, next to finding a good vein, comes the necessity of having it well worked, and so of Mr. McCormick, and the hint may prove of value if rightly improved by those who even in smaller operations would realize the advantages sure to follow from its adoption.
In mining, next to finding a good bein, comes the necessity of having it well worked, and so of C. H. McCormick. The Reaper and Mower that bear his name were in themselves a mine of gold, which, as indicated and to be indicated, has been brought out with a success and full tide of prosperity rarely paralleled. Commencing their manufacture and sale in Chicago in 1848, the average annual sales here to 1854 were near 1,500; the sales that year being:
The following exhibit will prove interesting as showing the material used for the stock of Reapers now in readiness for the season of 1859:
It is the policy of the management of the Works to keep on hand in advance a year’s stock, and their high-piled lumber and piles of pig iron, and steel bars, made to their order in Sheffield, England, indicate to the most unpracticed eye that bthey are still “looking out ahead.” With two more references we have done.
We invariably look upon it as a token of high merit and success in an establishment of this magnitude, if the employees each capable in his place, have a fidelity and loyalty to the interests of the whole, and by long terms of service reflect the same. We recognize in the Reaper Works countenances and names that for ten years past have had the same connections. The McCormicks have selected capable men and made them from mutual interest fixtures. Thus for ten years past Mr. Blakesley has been the bookkeeper, Mr. Hanna first assistant, Mr. Hopkins general outside manager for the like period of time. An excellent and benevolent policy we noticed too, where in the screw cutting room, a bevy of boys picked up from our streets were the whole under supervision of a capable mechanic, tending each his own machine, with a solemn air of responsibility novel to some of them at least. Some of the predecessors of these boys are now good mechanics, as these masy become.
Mr. Voice, Mr. Erpelding, Mr. Burchett and Mr. Green are respectively in charge of the wood, iron and casting departments, as each has been for ten years past. Can many manufacturers or their employees show a better record of mutual co-operation for mutual interests.
Panoramic view showing the McCormick Reaper Works about 1860, on Chicago River, east of Rush street bridge.
THE REPAIR ROOM.
A curiosity to us, in fact a little museum, was the repair room, as presenting duplicates in kind, of every machine sent from the works. Each year has made changes and improvements in some larger or lesser portion of the Reaper. Now the form of the finger was varied,. then the sickle or its teeth, but through all these changes remains the necessity on the part of the manufacturer, of remembering his patrons of former years, and the identical supplies each machine machine may call for in repairs.
Here in the repair room is the whole story told in identical reapers, one of each kind ever sold, and the farmer of Illinois or Missouri who, in any year earlier or later since the manufacture of the McCormick Reaper, bought a machine, has only to mention the part he wishes duplicated, with the year of purchase, and the foundryman takes his pattern, and fills the order promptly.
The whole establishment hums like a bee-hive with busy industry throughout the entire year, and is the centre of dependencies which if placed by themselves, would amount to a village of more than two hundted and fifdty families, among whom, even through the past eighteen months of general depression, to the credit of the McCcormick’s be it said, “pay day” has been looked for without disappointment.
The Great Reaper was a success, and it has amply repaid its proprietor in a fortune colossal yet not disproportionate to the benefits conferred upon the agricultural interests of a score of States.
View of Rush Street Bridge From Norton’s Block, River Street
Lithographed & Printed by Chas. Shober, 109 Lake St.
Published by E. Whitefield, Rufus Blanchard 52 LaSalle St
Chicago Tribune, October 1, 1871
THE NEW FACTORY DISTRICT.
It is understood that the McCormicks will build their new reaper factory on the ground recently bought by them between Robey and Leavitt streets, and south of Blue Island avenue, though we believe nothing definite is known as to when.
Elevated view of men and ships near the McCormick Works and the Chicago River during the Chicago Fire of 1871. Photograph taken from south bank of river, east of Rush Street, showing McCormick Works in the center on the north bank of the river.
Chicago Tribune, October 9, 1872
Scarcely any other name stood out so prominently in the list of losers by the fire as that of McCormick; and scarcely any is so extensively identified with its restoration. The McCormick losses were not far short of $2,000,000; their expenditures in rebuilding will be even greater than this amount.
The McCormicks are best known in conjunction with their celebrated reaper, which is now in use in almost every country of the civilized world. Their immense factory, on the north bank of the river, near Rush street, was a mechanical m,arvel in itself, as its products were wonder of the agricultural world, and the rapidity of their growth was almost as astonishing as their extent. The McCormick factory was established in 1846, and 100 machines were turned out that year. In 1847 the initial production was doubled. In 1848 they manufactured 500, and the last number was trebled in 1849. The next twelve years that product was increased ten fold, the enormous number of `15,000 machines having been placed on the market for 1871, some 700 workers being engaged in their production. The next year’s work would have been greater than this, but for the fact that buildings, machinery, patters, and, in fact every vestige of the establishment except energy and muscle, was resolved into its original elements a year ago. Arrangements were at once made to manufacture machines in temporary quarters, to supply the more urgent demands, and about half as many have been produced as in the year previous. They have now, however, in process of construction, a new factory, or rather a new set of factories, which will enable them manufacture 25,000 machines per annum, more easily than they could turn out 1,500 only thirteen years ago.
Ruins of the McCormick Reaper Works
The new works are located in the new southwest manufacturing district, on 155 acres of ground purchased from S. J. Walker, Esq., and lying on the north bank of the new South Branch of the river, having a dock frontage of 1,320 feet near the intersection of Western and Blue Island avenues, and adjacent to the bridge. The works cover an area of 21 acres, and the buildings will contain six acres of floor-room.
The buildings have a northern frontage if 360 feet, four stories high, and three parallel wings extend back from this to the river. The woodworking department will occupy nine rooms, each 60 by 100 feet. The blacksmith shop is 90 by 100 feet, and 28 feet high. The foundry buildings are 90 by 216 feet, with furnaces and an engine house adjoining. The central building of the factory, 40 by 217 feet, and two stories high, with deep basement, will be used for storing, cleaning castings, grinding cutters, and preparing different parts of the reaper. The engines will be of 300-horse-power, low pressure, built by the Ouyahoga Engine Works, of Cleveland, Ohio, and both boiler and engine house will be strictly fire-proof. Indeed, the utmost care has been taken, in the arrangement of the works, to guard against damage by fire, the whole building being constructed in sections, with interior walls, and double iron doors connecting the departments, while an ample supply of water and steam can be turned on and part in case of emergency. The buildings are well drained, will be lighted with gas made on the premises, and heated by steam apparatus made by the Crane Brothers’ Manufacturing Company. The architects are F. and E. Bauman. The total cost will be about half a million dollars.
The firm has also contracted for the erection of a three-story boarding-house, with thirty rooms and upwards of fifty cottages for their workmen, furnishing pleasant homes, at a cheap rate, to those employed in the works, without long journeys morning and evening.
A large number of first-class buildings are also being erected in or near the business centre of the city by these enterprising men. Among them we may mention the Reaper Block on the site of the old Larmon Block, and the McCormick Building on the site at the corner of Randolph and Dearborn streets, by C. H. McCormick; and a magnificent block at the northwest corner of Lake street and Wabash avenue, by Mr. L. J. McCormick and the heirs of the late W. S. McCormick.
That the preparations made for a largely increased production of the celebrated McCormick reaper are justified, finds sample proof in the past. It has been awarded the first prize at all the great international exhibitions, from the World’s Fair, in London, in 1851, to the Paris Exposition, in 1868; and the last named the grand gold medal was awarded, and an extraordinary distinction conferred on Cyrus H. McCormick, in his nomination, by the Emperor, as Knight of the Legion of Honor. These awards led to their adoption on thousands of farms in England, France, Russia, and other countries, as well as in the United States, where it is universally regarded as the farmer’s friend.
McCormick Reaper Works
Rufus Blanchard Map
McCormick Reaper Works
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map