August 2008
McCormick Harvesting Machine Company Brochure, c. 1882

"It is gratifying to know that so many of our citizens are willing to seek in agriculture and its kindred arts an outlet for their surplus capital ... it is assuredly the most promising field of enterprise to the young, that now offers."

-- Alexandria Gazette, February 29, 1868

This brochure was produced in 1882 by the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. It came to the Alexandria Library as part of a recent donation from the Craddock family which is now being processed. The brochure is a fine example of late nineteenth century advertising, both in its graphics and its text copy. Inside, the brochure details the variety of awards won by the company at national and international expositions, profiles three McCormick machines with detailed descriptions and images, and also contains a long list of testimonials from satisfied farm customers.

Cyrus Hall McCormick invented the horse-drawn mechanical reaper in 1831 at Walnut Grove, his father’s farm in Rockbridge County, Virginia. For much of the early and mid-nineteenth century, soil exhaustion was a problem in Virginia, and the state also lost many of its farmers to the westward expansion movement. After farmers began to rotate their crops and to introduce fertilizers such as guano, lime, marl, or manure, lands were improved and productivity could increase.

In Alexandria, farms were generally located on the outskirts of the city. The 1850 agricultural census for the county had 99 listings, with farms ranging from four acres of improved land (William Tucker) to 300 acres (James Roach). By 1860, the agricultural census had 147 listings, with improved acreage from two (Eliza Brady) to 850 (James Green). Both censuses list a number of women owners. The city had several dealers in agricultural implements and supplies at this time, including J.P. Bartholow and William H. May & Son.

William H. May & Son, Alexandria Farm Equipment Dealers

William H. May began dealing in agricultural implements in 1852; by 1883 he was in business with his son John and they had an “extensive establishment” at 11 North Fairfax Street/38 South Union Street as well as a “Plow Works” on Fairfax Street between Queen and Princess. The company manufactured plows, castings, and their own fertilizers, and were also dealers for other implements and seeds. (Brockett and Rock, p. 64) A piece of stationery from W.H. May & Son shows that one of the products they sold was the McCormick Mower. City directories show that the business moved to 201-203 King Street by the early 1900s; the company is listed in the directory in 1934, but not in 1936.