Our latest Grainews machinery book review this summer had us reading through pages of “The International Harvester Company: A History of the Founding Families and Their Machines”, written by Chaim M. Rosenberg and published by McFarland.
This isn’t the typical machinery coffee table book filled with glossy images that detail the evolution of a brand’s tractors and machinery. Instead, this paperback takes a deep dive into the personalities that made up the McCormick and Deering families, who eventually merged their firms to form International Harvester, once the world’s largest farm machinery manufacturer. So it looks at the rise and, arguably, the fall of a family’s business empire.
There are some images in this book, but they are all black and white, and many of them are of the personalities behind the machines, not the machines themselves. What the book may lack in glossy images, it makes up for in interesting details of the two families. In fact, the book reads a little like a plot summary of the ‘70s TV show “Dallas”.
Rosenberg sheds light on the idiosyncrasies, back-stabbing and bickering among members of the families that can best be described as the uber riche of their day, not to mention the hostile acts toward competitors that would have made J.R. Ewing proud.
The families were key figures in the early development of the city of Chicago, where their factories were located. In fact, the Great Fire reputedly started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow cost the McCormick family a lot of money, because its factory was destroyed in it.
Many family members were prominent patrons of the arts, donating millions to art galleries and other institutions. And Rosenberg found many interactions by the McCormicks and Deerings with prominent political figures in U.S. history, such as Abraham Lincoln, who acted as a lawyer in one of the many civil suits Cyrus McCormick brought against his competitors.
This well researched book is an interesting profile in how the right invention at the right time lifted a pair of families from obscurity to the peak society and industry in a time of great social and political change, not only in the U.S. but also around the world. After reading this book, you may never look at that old IH tractor the same way again. The book could make a great addition to the Christmas gift list for that IH enthusiast in the family.
The 256 page book is available online from McFarlandBooks.com (or by calling 1-800-253-2187) for U.S. $49.95.