The mechanical reaper expanded the national market economy by increasing the amount of wheat a farmer could harvest in a limited harvest season, improving the food supply and freeing farm laborers to work in factories. Prior to its invention, farmers harvested wheat with a scythe, which was a very labor-intensive process.
Delaying the harvest of wheat increases the likelihood of the crop spoiling in the field. Prior to the mechanical reaper, farmers kept croplands small in order to reduce their potential losses. Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the mechanical reaper, offered farmers a money-back guarantee if they were unable to harvest 15 acres daily. The increased harvest size reduced the chance of crop spoilage, and the machines thereby made farming more profitable for farmers and wheat more available to citizens.
While the mechanical reaper offered many advantages, farmers originally looked at it with skepticism. Many were unwilling to invest $120 in the machine. McCormick used advertising to increase sales. The machine took a gold medal in the 1851 World's Fair in London, and McCormick provided financing and training for farmers willing to purchase the machine; by 1860, McCormick was selling more than 4,000 machines annually.
The 1871 Chicago fire destroyed McCormick's factory. McCormick and his wife sold their New York home to return to Chicago and rebuild the factory larger than ever.