Employing methodologies from historical geography, economic sociology, business history, and other subdisciplines, Gordon Winder?s The American Reaper is a solid and significant contribution to the history of American grain harvesting implements. Winder offers several revisionist challenges to standard accounts, both those that have treated Cyrus McCormick as a heroic inventor, as well as those that have touted the International Harvester Corporation (IHC, formed in 1902) as a path-breaking model of a vertically integrated and internationally dominant firm.
A professor of economic geography at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universit?t in Munich, Winder introduces the notion of ?product systems? (p. 46) to explain how a wide range of innovators, manufacturers, patent lawyers, consumers, and others formed the networks that fostered the growth of this industry. Reaper manufacturers forged licensing agreements, subcontracted with suppliers and branch factories, shared expert personnel and innovations, hired widely dispersed sales agents, and formed alliances to protect patent advantages in order to remain competitive. Winder?s interest in geography is also important, as both his maps and his narrative highlight the spatial relationships among the many participants in this decentralized marketplace. By focusing on smaller scale and under-capitalized manufacturers ? many of which operated only seasonally ? Winder offers good evidence for an alternative to the standard narrative of a triumph of big business and mass production. In 1872, even the largest factory, McCormick?s in Chicago, relied on 109 different suppliers of screws, castings, paints, and many other parts and supplies.
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