We have entered the political (money) phase of the climate change discourse. So of course I am going to write about wheat.
I first became aware of just how much money can be made by paying attention to what the politicians are up to when I re-read the story of Cyrus McCormick and his Reaper twenty years ago. Most of what I knew of the story turned out to be wrong. On Monday evening I dug out my 1961 edition of "Historical Statistics of the United States" for some backround.
First off the reaper was probably invented by Cyrus' dad: The great demonstration of 1831 was done just six weeks after Robert McCormick's failed demonstration. Second, McCormick's version was not the first patented. Third, the invention was a commercial failure (at first).
There have been many reasons put forth to account for the eventual success of the machine. At a 1931 ceremony marking the centennial of the first test a former governor of Virginia said:
Rather jocularly speaking, he was possessed of a combination of qualities which have at all times proved invincible. He was a Virginian, he was a Democrat, and he was a Presbyterian; and so God blessed him with success because he deserved it.
Invented in 1831 and patented in 1834, McCormick didn't sell a single machine until 1840. The sales figures for the early years are debatable but these are the best I could put together:
External factors played a part: Florida, Texas and Iowa were admitted to the Union in '45, '45 and '46 respectively.
Miles of railroad trackage, 2818 miles in 1840 increased to 4633 in 1845 and 9021 in 1850.
The nation's asset base grew e.g. life insurance in force went from $4.7mm (face) in 1840 to $97.1mm in 1850. The country was growing pretty fast.
On the corporate level, McCormick was a pioneer of installment sales.
The company moved to Chicago in 1847. Contrary to what this wonderfully illustrated 12 page history says:
It was not until 1847, when he built his own factory in Chicago, that he was able to sell a significant number of machines.the salesmen's order books were filling up prior to the move.
This is getting to be a long post. I think I will serialize and show the opportunity created by laws and politics in the next posting.
Part II (above)