Cyrus Hall McCormick: His Life and Work

by Herbert N. Casson

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What would become the International Harvester Company, originally was known as the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. The McCormicks were one of many who had developed farm machinery, but their company grew due to Cyrus McCormick’s attention to building marketing, sales and improved manufacturing. However, one aspect of McCormick Harvesting Machine Company growth that has rarely been acknowledged is the slave labor that built such dynasties in the United States. For McCormick, it was Jo Anderson, an enslaved man, whose genius and hard work helped build the mechanical reaper that would make the McCormicks very wealthy. Cyrus’ father, Robert, enslaved Anderson. Together they worked on developing a mechanical alternative to improve farming. Cyrus McCormick wrote of Anderson in his work, The Century of the Reaper:
“Jo Anderson was there, the Negro slave who, through the crowded hours of recent weeks, had helped build the reaper…Anderson deserves honor as the man who worked beside him in the building of the reaper. Jo Anderson was a slave, a general farm laborer and a friend.”

Anderson died sometime in 1888, and did not live to see the success of the machinery he toiled so hard on. Rather, even after the Civil War concluded, Anderson was not able to freely live in Virginia, and remained on the farm where his labor was hired out and he received only a portion of his earnings.