Harvesting History


Harvesting History

McCormick's Reaper, Heritage Branding, and Historical Forgery

Daniel P. Ott

306 pages
10 illustrations, index


January 2023


$60.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

January 2023


$60.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

January 2023


$60.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Harvesting History explores how the highly contentious claim of Cyrus McCormick’s 1831 invention of the reaper came to be incorporated into the American historical canon as a fact. Spanning the late 1870s to the 1930s, Daniel P. Ott reveals how the McCormick family and various affiliated businesses created a usable past about their departed patriarch, Cyrus McCormick, and his role in creating modern civilization through advertising and the emerging historical profession. The mythical invention narrative was widely peddled for decades by salesmen and in catalogs, as well as in corporate public education campaigns and eventually in history books, to justify the family’s elite position in American society and its monopolistic control of the harvester industry in the face of political and popular antagonism.

As a parallel story to the McCormicks’ manipulation of the past, Harvesting History also provides a glimpse of the nascent discipline of history during the Progressive Era. Early historians were anxious to demonstrate their value in the new corporate economy as modern professionals and “objective” guardians of the past. While ethics might have prevented them from being historians for hire, their own desire for inclusion in the emerging middle class predisposed them to be receptive to the McCormicks’ financial influence as well as their historical messages.

Author Bio

Daniel P. Ott is a historian with the National Park Service in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He previously taught public history at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire and worked at the Minnesota Historical Society.


“A fascinating account of one company’s dedication to making its success seem not only natural but emblematic of shared American values. . . . Ott’s analysis of McCormick/International Harvester’s history is a moral tale well told.”—Deborah Fitzgerald, Leverett Howell and William King Cutten Professor of the History of Technology at MIT

“Well researched, well written, and engaging. . . . A significant contribution to the study of historical memory.”—David Blanke, author of Sowing the American Dream: How Consumer Culture Took Root in the Rural Midwest

“A fascinating story of farm technology, advertising, regional history, and mythmaking.”—J. L. Anderson, author of Industrializing the Corn Belt: Agriculture, Technology, and Environment, 1945–1972

“Daniel Ott has pieced together the many lives of the McCormick reaper, illuminating stages that moved the machine out of the fields and into American consciousness.”—Debra Reid, curator of agriculture and environment for The Henry Ford

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Every Salesman, a Historian
2. Producing Invention for Producer Populists
3. Historical Laborers and the Manipulation of the Past
4. Realigning History with the Rising Corporate Order
5. Herbert Anthony Kellar and the Quest for Professional Authority

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