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International Harvester Company - Don't Fear the Reaper

Cyrus McCormick – founder of International Harvester Company (American Business History Centre).

The International Harvester Company began with its founder, Cyrus Hall McCormick, who has become one of the most influential industrial inventors of the 19th century. McCormick was born in 1809, Virginia, and began his venture into industrial agriculture with the invention of a well-designed reaper for harvesting grain, which was patented in 1834. A decade later, McCormick would move to Chicago and grew his machinery business substantially. McCormick passed away in 1884, however his widow and son, Cyrus McCormick, Jr., would later merge with Deering – a fast-growing competitor also based out of Chicago. The two companies officially merged in 1902 and began trading as International Harvester Company, which became the 4th largest company in the United States by 1910.

Before the International Harvester Company dabbled in the engineering of firefighting appliances, the business produced a number of influential inventions – namely for the advancement of the agricultural industry. In 1904, International Harvester built its first gasoline engine, which was used for commercial purposes. Using this model, between 1906 and 1909, the company produced its first tractor and an early version of the classic pickup truck. The latter was identified when the company realised that farmers were loading heavy equipment into Auto Buggies, whose seats were removed to stow the extra cargo. Another significant invention was the Farmall Tractor in 1924 – often recognised as the world’s first row crop tractor.

Advertisement for the International Harvester Company from c.1965 (Museum of Fire collection).

By the 1930s, International Harvester Company was producing larger, more robust automobiles and heavy-duty vehicles. The company won an exclusive tender to supply vehicles for the construction of the Hoover Dam, in 1931, and later in the 1940s, went on to supply vehicles for the United States Military during WWII (something the company, now known as Navistar, continues to do today). After WWII, the company began to release more trucks that were only variation of one another. By the 1960s, the International Harvester Company began to manufacture vehicles in Australia. They recognised that the Australian market was different to that of the United States and warranted unique designs, which primarily started off as the production of vehicles for the Australian military services.

As their reach grew, the company first introduced International pumpers to Australia in 1972. These appliances went on to become one of the most prolific appliances utilised in the New South Wales Fire Brigades, with over 300 in various models being acquired. The C1600 pumpers were first commissioned to replace the Dennis F2s and Commers from the 1950s, which had begun to age with time and use. The C1600s had a double cab configuration, and reputed to be a favourite amongst firefighters for the camaraderie they engendered. Over time, the NSWFB procured the 1610A, 1710A, B and C models, and later the 1700 and 1800 appliance series, amongst many other models.

International Telesqurt drill with rescue stretcher at Alexandria Fire Station (Museum of Fire collection).

Today the International Harvester Company is now known as Navistar International Corporation, having officially reintroduced itself in 1986. Navistar still utilises the famous “International” trademark and continues to produce commercial vehicles. Although the company built its first bus chassis in 1919, it wasn’t until 1995 that it found the opportunity to manufacture and distribute school buses. Navistar has also participated in collaborative ventures with Ford, Caterpillar and General Motors in the last 40 years. In July 2021, Navistar was absorbed and is now owned by TRATON SE.

The Museum of Fire is holding its regular Heritage Day on 13 February, 2022, with the theme Internationals. There are also a number of International appliances on display and in the museum’s collection. For more information on our Heritage Days, follow this link:

- Story by Museum of Fire Heritage and Engagement Teams


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