History of the McCormick-IHC Collection | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

History of the McCormick-IHC Collection

History of the McCormick-IHC Collection | Wisconsin Historical Society

After the 1884 death Cyrus Hall McCormick, the industrialist, inventor and founder of the McCormick Companies, his widow Nettie, and their children hired secretaries to collect his manuscripts and memorabilia.

In 1912, they formed the McCormick Historical Association to preserve McCormick's work and accomplishments, which had laid the foundation for the development of the modern agricultural implement industry worldwide.  

McCormick Historical Association, Chicago (1915-1949)

In 1915 the McCormick family hired historian Herbert Kellar to manage the McCormick Collection and to head the McCormick Historical Association in the McCormick mansion in Chicago.

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.

For the next 30 years Kellar collected papers, photographs and artifacts. The collection grew from 10,000 to more than 1 million items.  It included the papers of Cyrus Hall McCormick, records of various McCormick companies in Chicago prior to 1902, plus a number of collections relating to agriculture and to Cyrus Hall 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.

Society Becomes Permanent Home for the McCormick Collection (1951)

Cyrus' daughter, Anita McCormick Blaine, assigned Herbert Kellar the task of finding a permanent home for the McCormick collection. At the time, the collection was considered one of the most important collections of manuscripts in private hands, and was highly coveted. Between 1949 and 1951, Kellar traveled more than 15,000 miles investigating 30 institutions.

One of the institutions visited was the Wisconsin Historical Society. Clifford Lord, the Society's director at the time, lobbied vigorously for the collection. He argued that the Society would make an ideal home for it.

The Society was located in the Midwest and close to the McCormick's Chicago home. In addition, the Society had been around for more than 100 years, had the necessary storage and research facilities, and 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, Blaine donated the McCormick Collection to the Society.

The McCormick Collection Grows (1952-1959)

The Society 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 1967, the collection had grown to include the business and personal papers of family members Nettie Fowler McCormick, Mary Virginia McCormick, Stanley McCormick, Harold McCormick, Anita McCormick Blaine, and Cyrus McCormick Jr.

International Harvester Donates Materials (1959-1985)

The International Harvester Company, long affiliated with the McCormick Companies, also made large donations of materials to the Society. In 1959, the company shipped several truckloads of farm implements and models to Stonefield, the Society's farm and craft museum in Cassville. In addition, when the old McCormick Works in Chicago closed, the company donated 19 tons of financial ledgers dating back to the first McCormick companies.

Indexes and Guides Developed (1960s-1970s)

After Lucile Kellar retired, 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.

Navistar International Transportation Corporation Donates Materials (1985-present)

After selling off its agricultural equipment line to Case-IH, the company changed its name from International Harvester to Navistar International Transportation Corporation.  

In the late 1980s, Navistar contacted the Society about materials in its corporate archives. It wanted to donate a portion of its old International Harvester agricultural equipment 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.

The collection was then renamed McCormick-International Harvester.

Also, great-grandson Brooks McCormick made a substantial gift of money to the Society to help preserve and manage the collection.

The McCormick-International Harvester Collection Today

Today the McCormick-International Harvester Collection consists of more than 12 million manuscript pages, 350,000 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.

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