I freely admit that I'd have never heard of Cyrus McCormick if not for my friend James. Yesterday we visited old Cyrus' farm, Walnut Grove. This is where, in 1831 at the age of 22, he demonstrated a mechanical reaper. His father had spent more than twenty years working on the idea, and when he gave up working on it, Cyrus stepped in. He built on this and the designs for a similar machine developed b y Patrick Bell of Scotland. Assisted by the family slave, Jo Anderson, Cyrus continued to refine and develop "his" reaper but didn't sell one until 1841. By 1847, they moved production to Chicago -- until then, each reaper was built by hand in the workshop we saw today.
The choice of Chicago was brilliant. As a railway hub, the vast agricultural markets in the Midwest were readily accessible. Shipping through the Great Lakes made raw materials for production cheap and also opened up the international market. In spite of several patent challenges from rival inventors, the company founded at this farm in Virginia went on to become the largest manufacturer of farming machinery in the world.