History of the Leander McCormick Observatory

Leander J. McCormick

Leander James McCormick was born to Robert Hall and Maryann (Polly) Grigsby McCormick on February 8, 1819 in Rockbridge County, Virginia.  He was raised at the family homestead Walnut Grove, located near Steele's Tavern.  Robert Hall McCormick invented the mechanical reaper, for which his son Cyrus later received the patent. 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, Leander married Henrietta Hamilton on her parents' homestead, Locust Hill, in Rockbridge County on October 22, 1845. The following year Robert McCormick died and his three living sons--Leander, Cyrus and William--established themselves in a business run by Cyrus to manufacture the reaper and sell it across the midwest. This led the McCormick family, including Leander's wife and infant son, Robert Hall, to move to Chicago in November 1848. There 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 U.S.

McCormick Family Homestead at Walnut Grove in Rockbridge County

In 1871, the great fire in Chicago destroyed much of the Reaper Works and other buildings, as well as the Leander McCormick family residence at the corner of Rush and Ohio streets, including pictures and ancestral souvenirs. Leander, his wife and children fled their burning home in early morning hours, moving 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 and sold his shares to his nephew, Cyrus H. McCormick.

In his later years, Leander McCormick remained in Chicago and began to research the McCormick genealogy. He eventually produced and published works on the McCormick family.