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Museum Musings - The Harvester Wars?

April 27, 2017

It is on record that Cirus McCormick did not come up with the actual idea of a grain reaper, rather he dramatically improved upon the original farm-made equipment.  One reaper was crafted by William Benton, a English-born master brick-maker, builder and farmer, and his enslaved blacksmith, Chas. McQuay, who had crafted a corn reaper prior to McCormick’s.  Benton was known to have worked in the Piedmont Region beginning in the 1820’s.  Purchasing 250 acres in Loudoun County (1822), Benton built his own home, Spring Hill, after one he had seen while in Wales.  His reputation was such that he had been hired by both James Madison and James Monroe.  In 1820 Benton made the bricks and built Monroe’s home Oak Hill and served as steward, counselor and friend to the Monroe’s.  During that time Benton and McQuay created a farm-made reaper to improve harvesting productivity and reduce labor. Family lore is that when Cirus McCormick of Lexington, Virginia learned of it and came to see it, Benton made a gift of the reaper to him.  McCormick made dramatic improvements, eventually patenting the McCormick Reaper/Binder.

 

The manufacture of farm machinery far exceeded the demand.  Eventually the two most successful harvester companies, McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. and Deering Harvester Co. waged a no-holds barred competition dubbed the “Harvester Wars” between the 1880’s and 1902.  “The struggle became so intense that competing salesmen would not only bribe farmers to buy, but also allegedly sabotaged the competition’s machines and physically attacked people.” (Moore, 1998).  Some farmers benefited through highly favorable purchase terms, extravagant dinners and special treatment by the competing companies.  However, the warring manufacturers could not maintain the expenditures of marketing their products.  When selling expenses exceeded 40% of the total sales, J. P. Morgan’s bank brokered a merger among the five largest companies (McCormick, Deering and Milwaukee, Piano Mfg., and Warder, Bushnell & Glessner [Champion harvesters] – forming International Harvester Co.

 

 The McCormick-Deering pictured above was used at Virginia Tech's Northern Piedmont Center; opened in 1941.  "The Northern Piedmont Center at Orange, VA was founded in 1940 as a unit of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech. The NPAREC has a total of 45 acres that support crop production and environmental science research for the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences and our research partners. More than 20 acres are currently in research plots planted to corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, switchgrass, and other crops. The NPAREC is located on Highway 15, south of the Town of Orange."  (Virginia Tech)  For more information about the Station visit:  https://www.cses.vt.edu/content/dam/cses_vt_edu/facilities/np-factsheet-2013.pdf

 

 

For a number of years, IHC sold two parallel lines of equipment; McCormick and Deering, under the IHC logo.  While parallel, each was slightly different from the other.  "This was deemed necessary since each line had its loyal customers, and there was usually both a McCormick and a Deering dealer in every farm community." (Moore, 1998)  

 

The results of an antitrust filing (1912) by the U.S. Government in 1923 was a new grain binder that combined the best features of each of the older  McCormick and Dearing machines; introduced as the McCormick-Deering.  All of IHC’s other farm implements soon followed suit, and the famous McCormick-Deering line was born.  McCormick-Deering was never a “company” itself, but the trademark name of a line of farm machinery manufactured by the International Harvester Co.  

 

The brand survived the Great Depression up until around 1948/1948 - Deering was dropped from the brand name.  In the 1960's, IHC replaced "McCormick-Deering" with "International."  By 1984, the farm equipment division was sold to Tenneco Inc.

 

 

Sources:

 

Benton, Fred and Becky of St. Inigoes, Maryland.

 

Moore, Sam. “Whatever Happened to McCormick-Deering?” Farm Collector. August, 1998.

http://www.farmcollector.com/company-history/whatever-happened-to-mccormick-deering

 

National Register of Historic Places, http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Counties/Loudoun/053-0107_Benton_1984_Final_Nomination.pdf

 

Williams, Harrison.  “Legends of Loudoun” 1938.  Electronic version November, 2011. 

 

Virginia Tech, Crop and Soil and Environmental Sciences.  http://cses.vt.edu/facilities/nparec.html

 

 

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