Between the 1820s and 1850s, the American economy experienced the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. Read more about a newly invented machine that made harvesting wheat much easier for western farmers.
Invention of the Mechanical Reaper
Before the 18th and 19th century, people produced their food, clothing, and crops mostly by hand and using small tools. This often required much time and energy. The Industrial Revolution brought about change in the way goods were produced.
There were several new inventions that allowed for the mass production of products, especially in the field of agriculture. One such invention was the mechanical reaper.The mechanical reaper was invented by Cyrus McCormick in 1831. This machine was used by farmers to harvest crops mechanically. For hundreds of years, farmers and field workers had to harvest crops by hand using a sickle or other methods, which was an arduous task at best. The McCormick mechanical reaper replaced the manual cutting of the crop with scythes and sickles.
This new invention allowed wheat to be harvested quicker and with less labor force.
McCormick was born on a Virginia farm in 1809. His interest in machines stemmed from watching his father’s early attempts to design a horse-drawn mechanical reaper. After over 20 years of his father trying to perfect the reaper, Cyrus took over the project, and by 1831, was demonstrating his improved horse-drawn reaper in nearby towns.
After numerous tests, the reaper was harvesting about an acre an hour; whereas before, it would have taken an entire day to harvest anywhere between an acre to three acres. The machine was loud and cumbersome, but it made a farmer’s job much easier. McCormick was able to secure a patent on the device in 1834. By 1860, more than 100,000 reapers were in use on Western farms.
The Reaper’s Impact on Agriculture
It could be said that no one was more influential in changing American agriculture than Cyrus McCormick. His invention revolutionized farming by combining many steps involved in harvesting crops into one machine. McCormick’s reaper could cut more wheat in a day than a half-dozen farmhands.
The machine’s speed increased crop yields, decreased the number of farmhands needed, and helped turn the Midwest into the nation’s breadbasket region.Because farmers were able to harvest wheat so quickly, they began to plant more of it. Growing wheat in this region became profitable.
McCormick’s reaper ensured that raising wheat would remain the main economic activity in the Midwest.New machines and new improvements in transportation helped farmers plant more acres of cash crops, crops planted strictly for sale. Midwestern farmers began growing more wheat and shipping it east by train and canal. It brought about an industrial revolution as well as a vast change in agriculture.
Cyrus McCormick was more than an inventor; he was responsible for revolutionizing agriculture throughout the country.
The mechanical reaper was used by farmers to harvest crops mechanically.This machine proved to be the answer for wheat farmers because it increased food production as well as made harvesting easier. Farmers could now process more wheat much quicker and with less labor force.
This proved to be a huge economic benefit in the agricultural world. New machines and new improvements in transportation helped farmers plant more acres of cash crops, crops planted strictly for sale.
Mechanical reaper – a machine used by farmers to harvest crops mechanically; invented by Cyrus McCormick in 1831Cash crops – crops planted strictly for sale
After this lesson, you should be able to:
- Identify Cyrus McCormick
- Recall how the mechanical reaper was invented
- Outline how the mechanical reaper changed agricultural practices
- Discuss how the Midwest became the nation’s breadbasket