In 1831, at the age of 22 Cyrus McCormick began work on a horse-drawn reaper that was originally conceived by his father, a farmer and inventor in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Cyrus added features to his father's design and three years later patented the invention as the 'Virginia Reaper.' The unit initially sold for $100 in 1840 and remained in production until 1876. The reaper was a huge success as two men, a mule and a reaper could cut as much grain as five men cutting by hand using scythes. In 1847 McCormick moved to Chicago to build reapers for use in the vast Midwest grain fields. The reaper hastened westward expansion and rapidly increased food production in the United States. By 1851, McCormick was an international celebrity and has been hailed the 'father of modern agriculture.'

cyrus mccormick farm and workshop blacksmith shop cradle scythes

Before the invention of the mechanical reaper, grains where cut by hand by men wielding cradle scythes.

The mechanical revolution in agriculture also brought about a social revolution. Prior to the invention of the mechanical reaper, 90% of the United States population was directly engaged in farming. With the advent of the new technology, that number dropped to 2%, freeing men and women to devote themselves to other pursuits in arts, technology, and business. McCormick's new technology spurred the growth, diversification and strength of the U.S. economy. McCormick was also a maverick of modern business methods. He advertised and extended credit to farmers to enable them to purchase the machines. He also offered written product guarantees and consumer education about new technologies.

cyrus mccormick farm and workshop family blacksmith shop wheels

The first practical reaper was built here in the blacksmith shop.

A National Historic Landmark that is part of Virginia Tech's Shenandoah Valley Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Cyrus McCormick Farm and Museum is open daily and features a grist mill, blacksmith shop, museum and scenic footpath in a five-acre park. Exhibits include a working model of McCormick's 1831 reaper.

Pictured at the very top: Cyrus McCormick Farm and Workshop features a grist mill with overshot water wheel, a blacksmith shop and museum.

cyrus mccormick farm and workshop family

Cyrus McCormick Farm and Workshop is a scenic place for a stroll and family outing.

cyrus mccormick farm and workshop family foot bridge and blue ridge

The scenic walking trail features a foot bridge and views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

cyrus mccormick farm and workshop models of steps in the development of the reaper

Miniature models in the museum illustrate steps in the development of the reaper.

cyrus mccormick farm and workshop reaper facsimile

A reaper facsimile is on display at the museum.

Historical Photo

cyrus mccormick farm and workshop first practical reaper illustration

The Cyrus McCormick Farm and Workshop Museum features an image of the reaper in use.