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McCormick-IHC Collection

History of the McCormick-IHC Collection

After the death of Cyrus Hall McCormick in 1884, his widow and children hired secretaries to collect manuscripts and memorabilia relating to the inventor and to the history of the agricultural implement industry. In 1915 the McCormick family hired historian Herbert Kellar to manage the collection and to direct an organization called the "McCormick Historical Association." A few years later the association moved out of its headquarters in the McCormick mansion at 675 Rush Street in Chicago and into a large stone carriage house at the rear of the property. The carriage house was remodeled to include a library, museum, offices and facilities for research. Kellar collected papers, photographs and artifacts at this location for the next 30 years. During this time the collection grew from 10,000 to more than 1 million items, including the papers of Cyrus Hall McCormick, records of the various McCormick companies in Chicago prior to 1902, and a number of collections relating to agriculture and to McCormick's native state of Virginia.

In 1949 the land and buildings of the McCormick Historical Association were sold in an estate settlement, and the collection was placed in storage. Cyrus' daughter Anita McCormick Blaine assigned Herbert Kellar the task of finding a permanent home for it. At the time, the McCormick Collection was considered one of the most important collections of manuscripts in private hands, and was highly coveted. Over the next two years Kellar traveled more than 15,000 miles and investigated 30 institutions.

One of the institutions Kellar visited was the Wisconsin Historical Society. The Society's director at the time, Clifford Lord, lobbied vigorously for the collection. He argued that the Society would make an ideal home for it. It was located in the Midwest, close to the McCormick's Chicago home. In addition, the Society had been around for more than a hundred years, had the necessary storage and research facilities, and had a national reputation for its outstanding collections. Finally, it was affiliated with the University of Wisconsin, which had a world-class history department and agricultural school.

Kellar ultimately agreed. The fact that he had attended school at the University of Wisconsin, and that his wife was a Wisconsin native, may have also played a role in his decision. In 1951, based on Kellar's recommendation, Mrs. Blaine donated the McCormick Collection to the Society, which hired Kellar and his wife Lucile to continue to manage the collection. Kellar died in 1955, but Lucile continued as the McCormick curator well into the 1960s. In the meantime, the McCormick family continued to donate additional material. By the time Lucile Kellar retired in the mid-1960s, the collection had grown to include the business and personal papers of Nettie Fowler, Mary Virginia, Stanley, Harold, Anita, and Cyrus McCormick Jr. The International Harvester Company also made large donations of material to the Society. The company shipped several truckloads of farm implements and models to Stonefield, the Society's farm and craft museum at Cassville, in 1959. In addition, when the old McCormick Works at Chicago was closed, the company donated 19 tons of financial ledgers dating back to the first McCormick companies.

After Lucile Kellar's retirement, a succession of archivists served as experts on the McCormick Collection. Much work was done to preserve the collection and make it more accessible to the public. In addition to creating numerous indexes and descriptive lists, the Society published an extensive Guide to the McCormick Collection, and completed a grant-funded project to preserve and describe more than 12,000 glass-plate negatives of the International Harvester Company. During this period, the papers of Fowler McCormick and the records of the McCormick Estates were added to the collection.

Then, in the late 1980s, Navistar International Transportation Corporation contacted the Society about material still in its corporate archives. The company had recently sold its agricultural equipment line and changed its name from International Harvester to Navistar. Now it wanted to donate a portion of its old International Harvester records. The Society, already home to the McCormick Collection, was the natural destination for this material. After some negotiation, Navistar donated more than 1,000 cubic feet of advertising literature, operators' manuals, company publications, press releases, photographs, films, and other public relations and marketing materials. Brooks McCormick made a substantial gift of money to help preserve and manage the collection.

Today the McCormick-International Harvester Collection consists of more than 12 million manuscript pages, 250,000 photographs, and 300 films. In addition, the Society's museum, library and historic sites hold thousands of books, agricultural newspapers, machines, models, toys, and pieces of clothing that were donated by the McCormick family and International Harvester. (see also selected bibliography).


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