Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




"Producing a Past" explores how the false "fact" of Cyrus McCormick's 1831 invention of the reaper came to be incorporated into the American historical cannon. From 1884 to 1932, the McCormick Harvester family and their various affiliated businesses created a useable past about their departed patriarch, Cyrus McCormick, and his role in producing civilization through advertising and the emerging historical profession. The McCormick narrative of the past which was peddled in advertising and supported in scholarship justified the family's elite position in American society and its monopolistic control of the harvester industry in the face of political and popular antagonism.

As a parallel story to the McCormick's hegemonic use of history, this dissertation also focuses on the professionalizing historical discipline during the Progressive Era. These early historians were anxious to demonstrate their concrete value in the corporate economy as "objective" guardians of the past. While ethics might have prevented them from being historians for hire, their own positions as middle-class workers pre-disposed them to be receptive to both the McCormick's financial influence and their historical messages.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.