McCormick Harvesting Machine Company Incoming Correspondence and Reports, 1849-1902

Scope and Content Note

McCormick Harvesting Machine Company INCOMING CORRESPONDENCE AND REPORTS consist of letters, financial statements, and contracts from domestic and foreign company agents, customers, suppliers, and shippers; and letters, legal documents, drawings and plans from attorneys, patent experts, inventors, and farmers.

The series documents the development of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company's marketing and sales organization, the expansion of domestic and foreign trade, competition in the implement business, customer relations, the installment credit system, and machine performance and improvement.

Of particular interest are files of letters from the 1870s describing the activities of the Grange in the Midwest, letters, drawings, and plans for improvements of harvesting machinery and new inventions such as corn and cotton pickers, letters from company experts describing the manufacturing of binder wire and twine

All of the material is arranged by year. Within each year, the following is a general outline of the series arrangement and filming order:


  1. Domestic
  2. Foreign
  3. Unknown location


  1. Accounts of sale
  2. Agency contracts
  3. Collections/notes/deliveries
  4. Compromises
  5. Current accounts
  6. Expenses
  7. Internal administration
  8. Machine reports
  9. Miscellaneous
  10. Profit and loss (arranged by state and city)
  11. Rent statements (chronological)
  12. Testimonials
  13. Titles abstracts/deeds

Correspondence from the years 1849 to 1879 is further organized by state or country of origin. After 1879, the arrangement is alphabetical by individual, company or organizational name. (For alphabetical lists of domestic and foreign agents and their locations see the appendix following the reel list.) Within each year, domestic correspondence is generally followed by foreign correspondence. English translations of foreign language letters are frequently included. In the detailed reel list, full company names were used where the correspondents were companies or businesses; full personal names were used where the correspondents were individuals not regularly employed by the McCormick Company, such as experts and implement dealers; and surnames alone were generally used where correspondents were regular company agents and employees.

REPORTS from company agents are filed last, after correspondence. These are arranged by type (described in more detail below) and thereunder by agent name.

There are a few important exceptions to the general arrangement. For the years 1878 to 1892, foreign and domestic letters are interfiled. Letters regarding patents, new inventions in harvesting and reaping machines, complaints about McCormick machines and suggested improvements, potential cases of infringement on McCormick patents, and similar topics, are not arranged by sender. Rather, these are found under the names Arnold (prior to 1888) and Swift (1888-1902), company officials to whom such letters were routinely forwarded or addressed. Reel 230 consists entirely of letters and legal documents from the McCormick's patent lawyer Robert L. Parkinson from 1880 to 1885. Finally, not all of the reports are arranged by sender. Profit and loss statements or vouchers are arranged alphabetically by state and thereunder by city from which they were submitted. Rent statements, testimonials, and title abstracts are arranged chronologically.

The type and quantity of material in the series varies greatly from year to year. For instance, prior to 1866, the files consist mainly of reports with very little correspondence. After 1867, the proportion of reports to correspondence is reversed, with reports appearing less and less frequently. The amount of foreign correspondence, consisting of letters from foreign agents, customers, and the company's European manager, increases significantly after 1890. Certain types of reports, such as deliveries, rent statements, machine reports and testimonials, are included only sporadically,.

There are also numerous gaps and inconsistencies in the series. For example, there is no material at all for 1879 and for 1860-1861 and for 1880 to 1885 there is very little material. The only correspondence from 1880 to 1883 are letters and legal documents from the McCormick's patent lawyer, Robert L. Parkinson. From 1885 to 1889, only certain letters of the alphabet are represented in the files; and in 1902, the entire “A” file is missing. In 1878, letters from July to December are missing. In 1855 and 1875, and from 1880 to 1888, there are no reports. From 1889 to 1902 reports are limited to profit and loss statements.

Below is a listing of years for each type of report:

Accounts of sales
1849-1870, 1876
Agency contracts
1849, 1851, 1854, 1858, 1860, 1863-1864, 1866, 1871-1876
1849-1870, 1876-1877
1862-1864, 1866, 1868
Current accounts
1860-1865, 1875, 1877
Internal administration
1850, 1852, 1854-1856, 1859-1861, 1864, 1874-1876
Machine reports
1872-1874, 1877
Profit and loss
Rent statements
1871-1875, 1878
1854, 1867-1869
Title abstracts\deeds

REPORTS include accounts of sale, agency contracts, collections/notes/deliveries, compromises (also called profit and loss statements or vouchers), current accounts, expenses, internal administration, machine reports, miscellaneous, rent statements, testimonials, and title abstracts/deeds.

The most common types of reports are accounts of sale, collections, and current accounts. These were financial statements submitted on a regular basis by the company's general, travelling, and collecting agents. However, there was a wide variation from agent to agent in both the frequency and type of report submitted to the home office. Much, but not all of this information is summarized in McCormick Series 3X Financial, Distribution, and Production Records, in volumes which are not complete for all time periods and geographic locations.

Accounts of sale record initial sales by commissioned agents and include name of purchaser, post office address, county, amount paid in cash, amounts of notes and dates due. Brief remarks about individual terms of sales or the purchaser's credit worthiness are sometimes included. These reports correspond to the Reaper sales volumes in McCormick Series 3X.

Agency contracts were yearly agreements between the company and its selling agents specifying the terms of business and the percentage of commission on sales and collections of notes.

Collections\notes\deliveries are accounts of cash collections on installment credit payments, lists of outstanding notes, and machines delivered. These typically include the purchaser's name, address, amount received on note, amount of interest, year of sale, and remarks. Deliveries record the name and address of purchaser, amount of cash paid, and the number of machines left on hand. Similar information is found in the agency records volumes of the same name in the McCormick Series 3X.

Compromises list discounts given to purchasers under various circumstances such as prepayment of notes, defective machines, or late delivery. Also listed are instances where the agent was unable to collect payment.

Current Accounts record the agent's overall financial dealings with the company in the form of debits and credits. Included are sums collected for notes and sales, and amounts due the agent for commissions and business expenses.

Expenses are monthly reports submitted by traveling agents itemizing their costs for transportation, meals, advertising, and office supplies and listing amounts collected or received. The reports included here fill in earlier years for the “Distribution of salaries and expenses volumes” found in the McCormick Series 3x. The information is also summarized in the Series 3X Settlements volumes.

Miscellaneous company circulars and directives, and lists of general agents and their locations are filed as internal administration. The material is similar to that found in volume 472 of the McCormick Series 1X, Outgoing correspondence, and fills in earlier years.

Machine reports (also called preliminary reports) are inventories of the numbers and types of machines sold in an agent's district during that season, and number of unsold machines on hand. Included also are estimates of the number of machines other than McCormick's sold in the district and projections of the next season's sales “based on a fair average crop”. Of particular interest here are agent's candid evaluations of crop conditions, the demand for McCormick machines, the success or failure of particular models, and the strength of the competition from other implement manufacturers. Machine and Rake ledgers in the McCormick Series 3X record similar information about the numbers of machines in stock.

Profit and loss statements (called vouchers for some years) reflect collecting agents' more concerted attempts, often many years after the original purchase, to investigate and close delinquent accounts with customers, usually by accepting less than the face value of outstanding notes or by collecting property or mortgages in lieu of cash payments. Information includes date of sale, amount due, the amount settled for through notes, cash or barter, reasons for accepting the discount, maker's age and condition, dependents, present occupation or extent of farm, amount of personal property or real estate, future prospects for acquiring property, and remarks of the collector. Related correspondence and past credit investigator's reports are often included. These reports are noteworthy in that they often trace in detail, over a period of years, the health, occupation, family status, mobility, and changing financial position of the original purchaser.

Some endorsements of McCormick implements by farmer's were filed by the company as Testimonials.

Title abstracts/deeds appear to concern properties mortgaged or deeded to the company in lieu of payment for machines. These appear to supplement information found in the Real Estate and Rentals volumes of McCormick Series 3X.