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Reaper Trial
Reaper Trial

This latter-day image depicts a reaper trial, in which entrepreneurs demonstrated their farm implements to a group of assembled farmers or fair judges. Illinois became a leader in the farm machinery trade in the antebellum period, beginning with John Deere's invention and marketing of the self-cleaning steel plow in 1837. In 1848 Cyrus McCormick moved his reaper manufactory from Virginia to Chicago, the Northwest's growing commercial center, in order to be nearer to the nation's wheat-growing regions. McCormick had invented the world's first practical device for the mechanical reaping of wheat, and it won him international celebrity and great wealth. But in 1855 another Illinois entrepreneur, John H. Manny of Rockford, defeated McCormick's machine at the Paris Exposition. In the aftermath of this defeat McCormick unsuccessfully sued Manny for the violation of his patent. In the ensuing trial, Manny's lawyers retained the young Springfield lawyer Abraham Lincoln to join their team as a local contact. But when the trial was moved to federal court in Cincinnati, the eastern lawyers decided that such "a long, lank creature from Illinois, wearing a dirty linen duster for a coat" could only embarrass them. Hurt by the snub, Lincoln vowed to redouble his legal studies and improve himself for future encounters with eastern advocates.

Image source: Chicago Historical Society
©Copyright 2002 Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project