William Sanderson McCormick

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William Sanderson McCormick
bearded man in Victorian suit
Born (1815 -11-02)November 2, 1815
Rockbridge County, Virginia
Died September 27, 1865 (1865 -09-27) (aged 49)
Jacksonville, Illinois
Occupation Businessman
Spouse(s) Mary Ann Grigsby
Children Robert Sanderson McCormick
William Grigsby McCormick
Emma Louise McCormick
Anna Reubenia McCormick
Lucy Virginia McCormick
Parent(s) Robert McCormick
Mary Ann Hall

William Sanderson McCormick (November 2, 1815 – September 27, 1865) was an American businessman who developed the company that became the major producer of agricultural equipment in the 19th century. The business became the International Harvester corporation after his death. Although he died relatively young with most of the fame going to his brothers, his extended McCormick family continued to be influential in the politics and business of Chicago.


William Sanderson McCormick was born November 2, 1815 on the family estate known as Walnut Grove, in Virginia.[1] His father was Robert McCormick (1780–1846) and mother Mary Ann (Hall) McCormick. He was educated in public schools and took an interest in business. When the family farm had financial problems in the panic of 1837, he took over its management and made it profitable again. When his father died in 1846, his older brother Cyrus McCormick and younger brother Leander J. McCormick left to start a factory to produce the mechanical reapers that had been developed on the farm, while he was left to take care of the estate. He married Mary Ann Grigsby (1828–1878) on July 11, 1848, daughter of Virginia planter Reuben Grigsby of Hickory Hill plantation.[2]

In 1850, William, his wife, and infant son moved to Chicago to join his brothers in the family business, first on a salary basis. The California Gold Rush had created a labor shortage, which was good for demand, but also caused turnover in the factory employees. William managed the day-to-day operations of the business while Cyrus was often traveling or pursuing patent infringement lawsuits. William tried to mediate between Cyrus (who claimed all the credit as "inventor") and his brother Leander, who was now in charge of technical aspects of product development.[3] In 1859 he negotiated a formal agreement giving him and Leander one fourth interest in the company, and renamed it "C. H. McCormick & Brothers."

The onset of the American Civil War brought new demand, but stress from another labor shortage. McCormick bought real estate in downtown Chicago which proved to be a wise investment. The family was attacked in the press as being southern sympathizers. In fact, the family never adjusted to the brutal cold of winters in Chicago. Brother Cyrus worsened the conflict by funding conservative newspapers to battle the liberal major publishers that were tied to local politicians. Cyrus traveled to Europe in 1864 where he successfully promoted international sales. Outwardly McCormick was described as "of a cheerful disposition, quick spoken, ... a most interesting and agreeable man".[2] However, he suffered from "nervous dyspepsia" and his mental state deteriorated. Various treatments for his mental illness such as bland diets or water cures proved ineffective. In April 1865 he stated simply to Cyrus "I am extremely nervous". He continued to manage the business until checking into the Illinois State Asylum in Jacksonville, Illinois in August 1865. He died there on September 27, 1865. His widow cashed in her share of the business, moved back to Virginia, and left the children with their uncles in Chicago.[3] He was buried in Graceland Cemetery,[4] and replaced as general manager by Charles A. Spring, Jr.

The McCormicks had five children:[5]

  1. Robert Sanderson McCormick (1849–1919) served as U.S. Ambassador to Austria-Hungary, Russia and France. He married the daughter of Chicago Tribune publisher Joseph Medill, and children included U.S. Senator Joseph Medill McCormick, and publisher Robert R. McCormick. The Tribune had been a major attacker of the family during the war.[3]
  2. William Grigsby McCormick was born June 3, 1851 and was one of the five founders of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity at the University of Virginia in 1869.[6] He married Eleanor Brooks on October 23, 1873 and had seven children before dying on November 29, 1941. Son Chauncey Brooks McCormick (1884–1954) was the father of Brooks McCormick (1917–2006) who was the last McCormick to lead the family firm.
  3. Emma Louise McCormick (October 14, 1854 – March 4, 1893) married Perry H. Smith on June 18, 1878.
  4. Anna Reubenia "Ruby" McCormick (May 22, 1860 – 1917) married Edward Tyler Blair on May 29, 1882 and was the mother of banker William McCormick Blair (1884–1982).
  5. Lucy Virginia McCormick (April 11, 1865 – ?) married Samuel Rountree Jewett on October 9, 1888.

Family tree[edit]


  1. ^ "William Sanderson McCormick". Wisconsin State Historical Society. Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b William Henry Egle (1896). Pennsylvania: genealogies chiefly Scotch-Irish and German. Genealogical Publishing Company. pp. 477–478. ISBN 978-0-8063-0102-0. 
  3. ^ a b c Richard Norton Smith (2003). The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick, 1880–1955. Northwestern University Press. pp. 23–25. ISBN 978-0-8101-2039-6. 
  4. ^ William S. McCormick at Find a Grave
  5. ^ Leander James McCormick (1896). Family record and biography. pp. 306–309. 
  6. ^ "History". Kappa Sigma web site. Retrieved December 28, 2010. 

External links[edit]