Leander J. McCormick

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Leander James McCormick
man in Victorian suit
Born(1819 -02-08)February 8, 1819
DiedFebruary 20, 1900(1900-02-20) (aged 81)
OccupationInventor, businessman and philanthropist
Spouse(s)Henrietta Maria Hamilton
ChildrenRobert Hall McCormick II
Elizabeth Maria McCormick
Henrietta Laura McCormick
Leander Hamilton McCormick
Parent(s)Robert McCormick, Jr.
Mary Ann Hall

Leander James McCormick (February 8, 1819 – February 20, 1900) was an American inventor, manufacturer, philanthropist, and businessman and a member of the McCormick family of Chicago and Virginia. Along with his elder brothers Cyrus and William, he is regarded as one of the fathers of modern agriculture due to his part in the development of the McCormick Reaper and what became the International Harvester Company. He also owned and developed vast amounts of real estate in downtown Chicago and Lake Forest, Illinois. In 1885 he donated one of the world's largest telescopes to the University of Virginia.


Leander James McCormick was a member of the prominent McCormick family of Chicago. He was born February 8, 1819 in Rockbridge County, Virginia on February 8, 1819 to Robert McCormick, Jr. (1780–1846) and Mary Ann "Polly" Hall (1780–1853). He was the fourth of five sons and was raised at the family homestead known as Walnut Grove, near Raphine in Rockbridge County, in the Shenandoah Valley on the western side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. His elder brother Robert Hall McCormick died as a teenager, and his younger brother John Prestly McCormick also died as a young adult. His father invented agricultural machines including the mechanical reaper, for which Leander's eldest brother Cyrus McCormick received the patent in 1834. Leander eventually developed multiple improvements to the reaper and received patents for two of them, with the remainder being patented by his brother Cyrus. At age 26, McCormick married Henrietta Maria Hamilton on her parents' homestead, Locust Hill, in Rockbridge County on October 22, 1845. The following year their father Robert McCormick, Jr. died. Leander had a third share of the reaper business, which amounted to 75 machines in 1846.[1]

In 1847 Leander helped Cyrus set up a factory in Cincinnati, Ohio that produced 100 machines. In fall 1848 he moved to Chicago with his wife and infant son to join Cyrus in setting up an even larger factory. Another older brother William Sanderson McCormick joined in 1850 in a business in run by Cyrus to manufacture reapers and sell them across the midwestern United States. They created what eventually became the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, with Leander taking over management of the manufacturing department, which he controlled for the next 30 years. By 1870, the McCormicks were one of the wealthiest families in the United States.

In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed much of the Reaper Works and other buildings, as well as the Leander McCormick family residence at the corner of Rush Street and Ohio Street, 41°53′32″N 87°37′31″W / 41.89222°N 87.62528°W / 41.89222; -87.62528 (Rush Street at Ohio). Leander, his wife and children fled their burning home in the early morning hours. They moved to the west side of the city for the next several years. The McCormicks, under Leander's direction, quickly rebuilt and recovered. By 1879, the business had fully recovered and was merged into a corporation. Leander stayed active in the management of the business until 1889 when he retired.[2]:320 After retiring from the business, McCormick then invested heavily in real estate.

McCormick donated funds for a refracting telescope to the University of Virginia. The telescope and building are known as McCormick Observatory and opened in 1885; the telescope was the largest in the U.S. and second largest in the world when completed.[3]

rectangular building
Sketch of Virginia Hotel from 1893 brochure

In his later years, McCormick remained in Chicago and began to research the McCormick genealogy. He eventually produced and published a book on the McCormick family.[2] In 1889 he funded construction of the Virginia Hotel at Rush and Ohio, where McCormick spent the rest of his life. The 400-room hotel was advertised as "an absolutely fire-proof building and a finished hotel second to no other."[4] The hotel featured ornate granite interiors decorated with marble statues, separate "gentlemen's smoking room" and "ladies dining room", and a room of boilers and dynamos to offer the latest technology: electric lights. It was ready in time for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.[4] His wife died in November 1899, and he died on February 20, 1900 at the Virginia Hotel.[1] At the time of his death, he had extensive holdings in downtown Chicago, and a stock farm in Lake Forest, Illinois.


His children were:

  1. Robert Hall McCormick II was born September 6, 1847, married Sarah Lord Day on June 1, 1871, became executor of the estate, and died in 1917.
  2. Elizabeth Maria McCormick was born on May 2, 1850 but died young on March 31, 1853.[2]:322
  3. Henrietta Laura McCormick was born April 22, 1857, married British barrister Frederick E. McCormick-Goodhart (1854–1924) on November 14, 1883, established a 540-acre (2.2 km2) estate northeast of Washington D.C. known as Langley Park, and died in 1932.[5] She published a memoir titled Hands across the sea[6] and, with her son McCormick-Goodhart, a book on her maternal grandfather John Hamilton (1789–1825).[7]
  4. Leander Hamilton McCormick was born May 27, 1859, married Constance Plummer on February 14, 1887, and died on February 2, 1934.

Incomplete Family tree[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Leander J. McCormick Dead". Lexington gazette. Lexington, Virginia. February 28, 1900. Retrieved December 30, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c Leander James McCormick (1896). Family record and biography.
  3. ^ "The McCormick Family and their Mechanical Reaper". Leander McCormick Observatory Museum. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  4. ^ a b The Virginia Hotel, Chicago. Press of J.C. Winship & Company. 1893.
  5. ^ Susan G. Pearl (October 2007). "Langley Park / McCormick-Goodhart Mansion" (PDF). National Register of Historic Places Registration. National Park Service. Retrieved December 30, 2010.
  6. ^ Henrietta Laura McCormick-Goodhart (1921). Hands across the sea: Reminiscences of an Anglo-American marriage. R. R. Donnelley.
  7. ^ Leander McCormick-Goodhart; Henrietta Laura McCormick-Goodhart (1933). Genealogical tables of the descendants of John Hamilton: of "Locust Hill", Lexington, Virginia, born 1789—died 1825.