McCormick Estates Records, 1841-1969

Scope and Content Note

After 1902, distinctions between McCormick Company business and the business of individual members of the family were difficult to perceive, since the one office handled accounts for all. In fact, the McCormicks were the Company. In 1905 Company matters were separated from the McCormick Estates, but office space and several of the staff remained common to both offices. Even letterheads are misleading, because at times letters clearly pertaining only to matters concerning the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company were written on International Harvester Company stationery.

In general, the papers are organized by months, although there are instances where dates do overlap months, and even years. This is more common in the correspondence, where an exchange of letters had been fastened together in the office. These have been left together, and the date of the first, the top letter was used in filing.

Series A: Cyrus McCormick, Sr., Papers, 1848-1926

It is difficult to separate the personal records of Cyrus H. McCormick, Sr. from the records of his early companies, [1] as he often used the same volume for both personal and company accounts. In organizing the papers, volumes dealing with the period prior to his death or possibly started by McCormick are filed in Series A, as the Inventor's own papers. They are particularly valuable in that they go far toward completing accounts already in the McCormick Collection, providing records not heretofore known of or available - records concerning reaper prices and sales, notes taken and due, and agency business and locations for the earliest decades of his business.[2]

Materials dating many years after his death are due to continuing bequest funds being distributed from his estate. When settlement of his estate was made in 1889 (one-fifth to his widow and the balance to his five children) his heirs opened an account on the books of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company under the title, Estates Bequest Fund. This fund was carried for many years, and it was from it that money was taken to finance the purchase of stock certificates as pensions for employees of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company.

Series B: Nettie Fowler McCormick Papers, 1883-1958

Loose manuscripts in Series B are composed of random letters, and financial reports and correspondence. One communication of note is the draft of a letter, July 21, 1902, from Nettie Fowler McCormick to John D. Rockefeller, Sr. concerning the approaching merger of the McCormick Company with four other manufacturers of agricultural implements.

Volumes dating from 1883 to the time of her death in 1923 contain records of receipts and disbursements, investments, and donations. Those subsequent to her death are concerned with the distribution of her estate, especially the creation of the “Joint Special Account,” a fund set up under the terms of her will for the purpose of continuing donations to organizations, institutions, friends, and relatives to whom she was committed.

Series C: Cyrus H. McCormick, Jr., Papers, 1889-1969

The three folders of general correspondence, 1889-1936, in Series C contain a mixture of personal and business letters concerning family matters, investments, loans, donations, decisions regarding stock distributions for the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company (circa 1908-1910), Princeton University, and some minutes and memoranda of meetings with McCormick's brother Harold and their lawyers. Among the most frequent correspondents were Harold; John A. Chapman and Judson F. Stone when each was in charge of the McCormick Estates office; Cyrus Bentley, lawyer; John A. Ryerson, a family friend writing concerning McCormick's sister, Virginia; three of his assistants and secretaries over a period of thirty years, C. S. Stillwell, F. A. Steuert, and F. C. Riley; and his friend, Edith (Mrs. Woodrow) Wilson, 1934-1935.

By far the largest amount of correspondence, 1896-1936, appears in connection with landscaping and remodeling plans at “Walden,” McCormick's country estate at Lake Forest, Illinois. The Massachusetts landscape architect, Warren H. Manning, was on retainer for many years to plan and supervise the layout and planting at “Walden.” There is convincing evidence that Manning, when he retired about 1934, sent his “Walden” correspondence and plans to the McCormick Estates office to be filed with other “Walden” materials. Other manuscripts in Series C deal with the Elizabeth McCormick Memorial Fund, including ten volumes of directors' minutes; a variety of financial reports from the McCormick Estates office, both before and after McCormick's death in 1936; a few accounts concerning “Elm Farm”; and several reports and accounts relating to his first wife's estate and to his sons, Gordon and Cyrus.

The fifty-five volumes of personal diaries, memoranda, and appointment books reveal many of Cyrus H. McCormick, Jr.'s activities between 1916 and 1936; including, for example, entries while he was with the Root Commission in Russia in 1917; and three executive office logs, 1916-1918, kept by or for him in his position as president of the International Harvester Company. Eighteen cashbooks, journals, and ledgers, 1890-1936, created in the office of McCormick Estates document much of his financial situation, both private and business. In addition, several volumes are filed concerning financial matters relating to his first and second wife, Harriet H. McCormick and Alice H. McCormick; his son Gordon; and his son Cyrus III and each of Cyrus's two wives.

In addition to the directors' minutes for the Elizabeth McCormick Memorial Fund, ledgers and cash journals show the Fund's accounts from its inception in 1908 to August of 1961.

Series D: Mary Virginia McCormick Papers, 1889-1952

Mary Virginia McCormick, who became mentally incompetent at about the age of nineteen, retained ownership of her inheritance from her father, Cyrus H. McCormick, Sr., until her death at the age of eighty. From time to time various members of her family served as conservators or trustees of her estate, but throughout her adulthood the McCormick Estates office managed all financial matters in her behalf. These included original assets; the maintenance of household reports and accounts; the employment of large household staffs; personal expenses; expenses, income, and profits relating to her chiefly Chicago income-producing properties; investments in stocks and bonds; loans; holdings in the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company and the International Harvester Company; and charitable contributions made in her name.

The papers appearing in Series D contain very little general correspondence; but offer a wealth of information concerning Virginia McCormick's care and the growth of her estate. For several decades elaborate homes were maintained for her - ”Oaklands” in Toronto, Canada (sold in 1931); the “Caravels,” a summer residence at Cohasset, Mass.; “Kildare,” a farm near Huntsville, Ala. (disposed of in 1932 by subdivision); and three homes in California, “Riven Rock” at Montecito (rented to her brother, Stanley, about 1907), a little-used town house in Pasadena, and “Quilenda” where she resided almost continuously in her last years.

The “Head of Household” was required to forward all receipts and records relating to the homes to the McCormick Estates office, where they were carefully scrutinized. Thousands of store tickets, purchase receipts, repair bills, cancelled checks and stubs, and local bank statements were received and stored by the office. These were so numerous and fragile that, in processing, such vouchers and records were retained only for two representative years, 1898 and 1908. The same information, for all years, may be found in monthly cash accounts, reports, and related letters submitted first by Dr. Alice Bennett, and then by Grace T. Walker throughout the long period when Miss Walker managed Miss McCormick's personal care, movements, and households, 1899-1941; and in monthly reports regularly submitted by others such as the farm manager at “Kildare.”

Summaries, accounts, and reports by the McCormick Estates office document not only the millions of dollars spent to maintain Virginia McCormick; but also the many more millions made in her behalf and left by her at her death in 1941. Papers dating from 1941 to 1952 are concerned with the settlement of this vast estate.

Series E: Anita McCormick Blaine Papers, 1890-1941

Anita Blaine papers maintained by McCormick Estates are limited in quantity, probably because Mrs. Blaine withdrew most of her interests January 31, 1910 when she established an office in downtown Chicago to handle her own affairs exclusively. The period from 1890 to 1910 contains scattered correspondence; information relating to her inheritance from her father, Cyrus H. McCormick, Sr.; and other financial accounts, chiefly those concerning the care of income-producing properties. The period following 1910 contains a few reports from the Estates office including checks issued to her, and records relating to summer vacation properties she maintained in upper Michigan and at Richland Springs, N.Y.

Series F: Harold Fowler McCormick Papers, 1885-1956

There is evidence that the McCormick Estates office handled a much larger portion of Harold McCormick's business than it did for any other members of the McCormick family. Many papers concerning the consolidation of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company with other companies in 1902 seem to have been in Harold's files. These have been processed into the International Harvester Company papers (Series J, boxes 3-4).

Correspondence, 1885, 1895-1935, 1941, is fragmentary, although it does include proposals for the reorganization of divisions, inter-office communications, and correspondence while McCormick was president of International Harvester, 1919-1922; and correspondence, 1931, regarding his restorations at the “Walnut Grove” farm in Virginia. A good example of a millionaire's finances is to be found in ledger sheets (Box 13) covering budgets, assets, liabilities, income, and expenditures, 1918-1931. Annual reports from the McCormick Estates office; accounts relating to his son Fowler; communications between McCormick and his second wife, Polish diva Ganna Walska; and files concerning the Doubleday breach of promise suit make up a large portion of the remaining loose manuscripts.

Volumes of financial records kept for Harold McCormick by the Estates office seem to be relatively complete for the entire period from 1890 to 1941, with one cashbook, May 1935-April 1956, extending well beyond the year of his death due to trust funds left to his heirs. Included in his papers are also financial volumes for his first wife, Edith Rockefeller McCormick; his son Fowler and Fowler's wife, Anne Stillman McCormick; his daughter Matilda's husband, Max Oser; and the Memorial Institute for Infectious Diseases, a charity set up by Harold and Edith as a memorial to their son John.

Series G: Stanley R. McCormick Papers, 1890-1946

Letters in the Stanley R. McCormick papers touch on his work as comptroller for the International Harvester Company until his mental breakdown late in 1906, and on his condition thereafter; but correspondence, 1890-1929, is very sketchy. Letters written later than 1906 are filed with various reports from the conservators or trustees or from the Estates office. Loose manuscripts and volumes concerning finances comprise the greater part of his papers. These deal with personal and private expenses; donations, investments, taxes, income and disbursements, rental properties, cash statements, monthly and annual reports from McCormick Estates; communications from his California agent, Dr. N. H. Brush; and monthly reports, 1913-1946, detailing the operation of his home, “Riven Rock” at Montecito, California.

An unusual part of the papers consists of so-called “Diaries,” 1906-1927. These are notebooks of typewritten records kept by the Estates office relative to the handling of Stanley McCormick's estate - receipts and disbursements, minutes of trustee conferences and decisions, and a digest of all financial correspondence. A few records concern his “Uracca Ranch” in Arizona, owned from 1898 to about 1909. Estate information also appears in 1929 when his wife, Katharine, sued for greater control of his funds, and a decade later when the conservators were required by the Illinois Probate Court to make a long summary report, 1929-1939, of their stewardship of his affairs.

Series H: The McCormick Family Papers, 1885-1954

This group of papers has been organized as a separate series because so many records and reports involved two or more members of the McCormick family, and thus could not be filed under individual names. A great many real estate properties were held jointly; stocks and other investments were made in the names of more than one McCormick; two, or all three, of the brothers shared ownership of several companies, such as the Belle City Malleable Iron Co. of Racine, Wis., and the Chicago Hardware Company and its successor the North Chicago Iron Company.

Accountants at McCormick Estates took care of rental properties and household expenditures for more than one McCormick but sometimes recorded such information in one volume; bank deposits and withdrawals covered more than one person's account; settlements and agreements often affected two or more; and the Estates office was responsible for various funds, syndicates, and special accounts set up by the McCormicks. For all of these, the office kept detailed records and provided reports.

“Voucher Records” in Series H (Volumes 18-27) illustrate the extent to which financial information relating to one McCormick overlapped that of another. In any one book, a voucher shows not only the amount of the check, the recipient and address, date, and purpose, but also shows on which individual McCormick account the check was drawn. Material in packages 1 and 2 represents the family's thinking on how best to refinance their New York loans with a view to liquidating the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, 1908-1916.

Series I: McCormick Harvesting Machine Company Records, 1841-1934

Of all the material in the McCormick Estates papers, correspondence filed in Series I is greatest in both volume and quality. Prior to consolidation in 1902, letters concern foreign and domestic operations of the McCormick Company, and the Paris Exposition of 1900. Throughout the years immediately preceding and during the merger negotiations in 1902 letters and memoranda among the brothers deal with Company personnel, policies, production, efficiency, dividends, taxes, and advertising.

Since the Company continued to exist until 1922 (as a company but not as a manufacturer), letters and agreements chiefly deal with dividends, loans, and problems of refinancing the loans by which the McCormicks purchased controlling stock in International Harvester. Within the correspondence, 1902-1912, and under various other folder titles in Series I, may be found proposals and agreements relating to the complicated plan by which the McCormicks, in the name of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, arranged for a 17.5 million dollar loan from John D. Rockefeller, Sr., a loan reduced to five million about 1907 and retired several years later through various other refinancing plans. (See also Series K, Box 2, Folder 1.)

These maneuvers also account for a digest of letters from Cyrus H. McCormick, Jr. to John D. Rockefeller, Sr., between Nov. 26, 1902 and June 1, 1912 (Box 21, Folder 1). The correspondence in Series I also contains communications with George H. Sullivan and Paul D. Cravath, New York lawyers and trustees for International Harvester funds held by the McCormicks; letters of William C. Keefer, W. S. Krebs, Hiram B. Prentice, G. A. Ranney, and Judson F. Stone, officers in the McCormick Company; and one letter from Jane Addams, Aug. 28, 1899, pleading for a job for a juvenile once employed by the Company.

The McCormicks' early recognition of the need to provide pensions for employees is shown in this series, since it was in the office of McCormick Estates that the plans were worked out. A wealth of information appears here concerning the process by which pension amounts were determined (Box 11-13 and Volumes 10-19); and the system by which employees and former employees were given certificates of purchase or exchange for stock in International Harvester.

In addition to correspondence, finances, agreements, and pension plans (found in both loose manuscripts and volumes), the series contains other materials of special value in any study of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company; e.g., production and sales of machines by kinds and quantity, 1841-1902 (Box 18 and Folders 4-5); minutes of Board of Directors meetings, 1882-1918 (Boxes 3-4 and Volumes 34-35); and McCormick ownership of stock in the Company (Boxes 20-21 and Volume 36).

Series J: International Harvester Company Records, 1902-1922, 1941 (This series was transferred to the IHC Archives in Chicago in 1977)

Series K: McCormick Estates Office Records, 1890-1965

Series K deals with the operation of the McCormick Estates office itself - organization of the staff, assignment of workloads, and budgets. In addition to general correspondence of various office personnel, it contains personal files of John A. Chapman and Judson F. Stone (the latter having followed Chapman as chief agent in 1917), including their participation in several companies in which the McCormicks had investments.

As manager of the many McCormick-owned properties this office, located in the Stock Exchange Building from about 1908 on, was responsible for rental accounts, buildings maintenance and employees, property acquisitions, and taxes. In 1933, for instance, it handled six office buildings - Stock Exchange, Reaper Block, Bedford Building, Hobbs, U.S. Express, and Temple Court - in addition to McCormick investments, mercantile buildings, warehouses, subdivisions, vacation properties, and many private matters for members of the McCormick family. The office records of William O. Melcher concerning insurance transactions are among the latest dates appearing in any of the McCormick Estates papers.


For companies see printed Guide to the McCormick Collection, page 2.


How and why these particular volumes came to be in the McCormick Estates storage vault in the Stock Exchange Building is not clear. Mrs. Lucile Kellar, long-time curator of the McCormick Collection, believes that they were once with the McCormick Historical Association collections, and at some time in the 1920s or 1930s were moved to the Estates offices to relieve crowding at the Association rooms.