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CYRUS MCCORMICK OWED HIS BIG IDEA AND HIS ETERNAL HOPE TO HIS FATHER

[The first McCormick reaper]


The example of a godly father is immeasurable on a child; and a father’s timely word can have eternal consequences. Robert McCormick proved both true with his son, Cyrus.

The McCormicks were of Scottish stock and staunch Presbyterians. A church building on their Virginia property testified to their convictions. When local Presbyterians watered down the faith, Cyrus’s grandfather took his hat, walked out, and erected the new worship center. Cyrus grew up singing in its choir, reading the Bible, and memorizing the catechism. 

His father, Robert, honored Christ with godly living, hard work, and faithful prayer. Among his projects was an attempt to build a reaper. He toiled at this in his spare time for many years despite the jeers of neighbors. Finally, he gave up. He had run out of ideas. 

But Cyrus, about twenty years old at the time, had watched his father, learned mechanical skills from him, seen what did not work, and most importantly witnessed Robert’s perseverance and character. He asked his dad if he could take over the abandoned project. Robert tried to dissuade him. But when Cyrus explained he had some new ideas, his dad relented. In about a year Cyrus had a model that worked. After years of further improvements, on this day, 21 June 1834, Cyrus McCormick patented his reaper. It changed the face of world agriculture.

Shortly after Cyrus took over his dad’s reaper project, he acquired an even greater gift from him: faith. A team of evangelists came to the Presbyterian Church. One evening they asked everyone who was on Christ’s side to stand. Cyrus McCormick did not rise. As he was going to bed, his father came into his bedroom. “Son, don’t you know that by being quiet you are rejecting Christ?”

Cyrus was stunned. He had not seen it in that light. Immediately he dressed and rode through the dark to the home of a man known for his ability to explain the gospel. Billy McClung showed Cyrus that he must commit himself to following Christ, confess his sins, and right any wrongs he had done to others. Cyrus never looked back. The next Sunday he stood up in church and declared publicly he had given his life to Jesus. To the end of his life he lived as a Christian.

Eventually McCormick moved his increasingly successful business to Chicago. Despite his patent, his invention was stolen by many others. He learned to outbuild and outsell his competitors and became wealthy. He invested money in Christian education, supported missionaries, and sought reconciliation between the northern and southern states which were drifting toward war with each other. 

Although a believer in slavery, he freed Jo Anderson, enslaved by the McCormick family, and provided him with land and a cabin long before Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Ironically, as many writers have noted, although his heart was always with the South, McCormick’s reapers fed the North and freed its men to fight in the Union armies.

Dan Graves

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