A mechanical reaper is an implement or person that cuts and gathers crops when they are ripe at harvest. Crops usually include cereal grasses. The first documented reaping machine was a Gallic reaper that was used during Roman times in modern-day France. With the Gallic reaper, the heads were collected in a comb, and the grain was knocked into a box for later threshing.

Most modern mechanical reapers cut the grass, but they also gather it, either by windrowing it or picking it up. Combine harvesters or simply combines are machines that not only cut and gather grass but also thresh its seeds (the grain), winnow the grain, and deliver it to a truck or wagon; they are the engineering descendants of earlier reapers.

As hay is harvested differently from grain, the machine that cuts the grass is known as a hay mower or if it is integrated with a conditioner, a mower-conditioner. Harvesting grain and hay involve scythes, sickles, and cradles, followed by a series of downstream processes.

Traditionally, all such cutting was called reaping, although a distinction is made between reaping grain grasses and mowing hay grasses; however, after a decade of attempts to create combined grain reaper/hay mower machines (the 1830s and 1840s), designers began separating the two categories of machinery.

From their appearance in the 1830s until the 1860s through the 1880s, mechanical reapers significantly changed agriculture as they evolved into related machines (self-raking reapers, harvesters, reapers-binders, grain binder, binders), which collected and bound grain sheaves with wire or twine.

Mechanical Reaper

Mechanical reapers harvest crops mechanically, eliminating the need for laborers to gather the crops by hand during harvest. In the 19th century, its development was a major event in the history of agriculture, playing a significant role in the mechanization of agriculture. With the advent of machinery, agricultural production increased greatly, requiring less physical labor.

Mechanical Reaper
Mechanical Reaper

The first mechanical reaper was patented in 1834, but several societies used their own versions throughout history. The Romans invented and widely used mechanical reapers but later lost the technology, forcing Europeans to harvest crops by hand. Some other people have also claimed the invention, with patents dating back to the 1830s in different parts of the world.

The invention of the Mechanical Reaper

People produced their food, clothing, and crops by hand and with small tools before the 18th and 19th centuries. This required a lot of effort and time. The Industrial Revolution brought about a change in how things were made. There were several new inventions that allowed the mass production of products, especially in agriculture. One of these inventions was the mechanical reaper.

Invented in 1831 by Cyrus McCormick, the mechanical reaper is still in use today. Farmers used this machine to harvest crops mechanically. In the past, farmers and field workers had to harvest crops manually with a sickle or other tools, which was an extremely difficult task. The McCormick mechanical reaper replaced the manual cutting of crops with scythes and sickles. This new invention allowed wheat to be harvested faster and with fewer workers.

Mechanical Reaper Inventor: Cyrus McCormick

Farmers in Virginia invented a mechanical reaper, then reaped profits in the Midwest’s exploding grain belt, innovating credit, service, and sales practices that became essential parts of American business.

Family Project

Cyrus McCormick, a twenty-two-year-old student, took over his father’s project of designing a mechanical reaper in 1831. McCormick developed features of the machine that remain in use today on his Virginia farm: a divider, a reel, a straight reciprocating knife, a finger, a platform to catch the cut stalks, the main wheel, and gearing, and draft traction on the front. Due to competition from other inventors, McCormick took out a patent in 1834 and soon manufactured the reaper himself.

Midwestern Gamble

The mechanization of agriculture during the nineteenth century was made possible by the mechanical reaper. The amount of grain that could be harvested by hand during the short harvest season limited both food supply and farm size before the reaper. At the first world’s fair in London’s Crystal Palace in 1851, McCormick’s reaper won international acclaim. 

In addition, it would enable farm laborers to work in factories during the expanding industrial revolution. McCormick made a fateful business decision in the 1840s, moving to Chicago in America’s western frontier, betting America’s agricultural future lies in the nation’s prairie states Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, and the territories that would become Nebraska, Kansas, and Minnesota. He would reap the rewards of his venture.

“Work, Work, Work”

McCormick dedicated himself to his work with a single-mindedness. In 1848, his factory-made 500 reapers; in 1851, it made a thousand; and by 1857, it was making 23,000. Introducing improvements continuously, McCormick introduced new models every year, just as car dealers do today. By acquiring other agricultural patents and companies, he expanded his empire to sell mowers, harvesters, and more. 

As a result, he offered farmers money-back guarantees and credit, saying, “It is better for me to wait for the funds than for you to wait for the machine that you need.” He established a comprehensive service organization staffed with local agents who could befriend farmers, show them how to use machines, and determine their creditworthiness. McCormick died in 1884, hard-driving to the end; his final words were, “Work, work, work.” Two decades after his death, his company would become the International Harvester Company.

 Mechanical Reaper Industrial Revolution & Impact

What industry is impacted?

The Mechanical Reaper impacted both the agricultural and business industry.

How was the impact felt?

At the time, the Mechanical Reaper revolutionized the world;

It increased the demand for slaves since the work required some (albeit less grueling) manual labor. From an economic point of view, this enabled the economy to rise: slave traders made more money, and extra produce from farmers was able to be exported overseas, stimulating eastern markets. In addition to saving farmers a lot of work, it also reduced labor costs, allowed them to use it in any weather condition, and enabled them to export more grain. In the past, a farmer could harvest about 3 acres of grain a day, but the reaper increased that to about 10 acres.

The reaper also impacted society in several ways:

We would not have all the access to food we have today without the mechanical reaper.

It led to a leap in the Industrial Revolution, as farming provided enough food to export worldwide due to its efficient harvest. By using the Mechanical Reaper, more food could be produced in a shorter amount of time. Therefore, manual labor decreased, allowing former farmers and their families to pursue other careers and education.

However, this change also had a negative impact:

With more farmers buying these machines, less labor was needed, resulting in some people losing their jobs. As a result of the widespread sale of machines, some farmers and grain workers (who worked traditionally) lost their jobs. In addition, the sudden surplus of food caused others to increase their populations, which in turn caused inflation to rise.

How Does The Mechanical Reaper Work

In the mechanical version, a farmer steers the reaper through the field and collects the crops. Traditionally, reapers are used to harvest grain crops, and the McCormick reaper simply cut the stalks of grain, leaving bunches behind for collection. A reaper-binder was invented to cut the stalks of grain and bundle them for easier handling, and today’s agriculture relies on combine harvesters that reap and thresh the grain all at once, simplifying the harvesting process.

It takes time and some skill to reap by hand, and the rate of harvest is determined by the number of workers available and their skills. If the mechanical reaper is in good condition, a farmworker can harvest multiple fields in a single day. With the use of mechanical devices, harvest can move from being a multi-day affair in which additional laborers are hired to bring in the harvest to taking an afternoon on a tractor.

Specialized machinery has been developed for fragile crops or crops with special needs, such as rice. Harvesters with these attachments minimize damage and maximize yields while minimizing damage. Mechanization of agriculture has led to very few crops still being harvested by hand in the developed world. A primary focus in developing nations may be on manual labor in the raising and harvesting of crops, and farm animals can be seen pulling reapers, plows, and other agricultural devices.


Is the mechanical reaper still used today?

Mechanical reapers benefited the United States because they helped us grow crops (raw materials) to trade, they gave us food, and our farmers were not as poor as they were before. Today, they are still used but they have been greatly improved (speed and power) and are called combines.

What did the mechanical reaper harvest?

Cyrus McCormick invented the mechanical reaper in 1831. Farmers used this machine to harvest crops mechanically. McCormick mechanical reapers replaced the manual cutting of crops with scythes and sickles. Wheat was harvested faster and with less labor with this new invention.

How many Reapers did Cyrus McCormick sell?

As a result of the bank panic of 1837, McCormick’s family was deeply in debt and turned to his still-unexplored reaper for help. In 1841, he sold two reapers, in 1842, seven, in 1843, and in 1844, fifty.

Is reaper free after 60 days?

The free trial of Reaper lasts for 60 days. After that, you must purchase a license. As long as you don’t, Reaper will continue to function as it always has. A nag screen will appear on startup stating the software requires a license, but it will otherwise continue to operate normally.

How much did the Reaper cost in the 1850s?

He also allowed term payments, a novel idea in the early 1850s when the reaper cost $125 – equivalent to $3,800 today. The farmer could deposit $35 plus freight with the balance due after the next harvest.

How much did Cyrus McCormick charge for his reaper?

Rather than haggling, McCormick set his price. He also allowed term payments, a novel idea in the early 1850s when the reaper cost $125 – equivalent to $3,800 today. The farmer could deposit $35 plus freight, with the balance due after the harvest. Credit losses for McCormick turned out to be less than 5%.

What was the impact of the mechanical reaper?

Cyrus McCormick built the mechanical reaper in 1831, which had an impact on the region. Farmers could rapidly harvest their crops with this invention. They were able to sell things faster and in greater quantities. Also, what was the mechanical reaper made of?

Where did the McCormick Reaper get its name?

During a competition held on an English farm in July 1851, McCormick’s reaper outperformed a British-made one. When the McCormick reaper was returned to the Crystal Palace, the site of the Great Exhibition, word spread quickly. Among the crowds attending the exhibition, the machine from America became a must-see attraction.