In the grand march of human progress which distinguishes the present age above all others, agricultural machinery occupies a prominent position, being second to none in its important bearing on the well-being of society. It has released the farmer from the drudgery of life, almost miraculously increased the production of food, and so far reduced its cost that the human family to-day is better fed and better clothed than at any time in all its previous history. In Australia, New Zealand, North and South Africa, in Russia, Italy, France, Spain, Greece and Great Britain, as well as in the republics of South America, the McCormick machines is as well known, highly appreciated and eagerly sought after as on the prairies of Illinois.… The McCormick is at home in a foreign harvest field, and needs no introduction or interpreter, for its work speaks in all languages throughout the circuit of the earth. — McCormick catalog, 1885

McCormick Harvesting Machine Company’s advertising strategies in the late 19th century drew on a powerful set of images and story lines about American character and the American frontier that we now associate with Turner’s famous 1893 essay “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” As Richard White has argued, one of Turner’s key ideas was that the process of settling the frontier actively shaped character.1 In other words, American-ness could be attained from recapitulating the march of pioneers into the uninhabited wilderness, bringing progress and civilization in the form of agriculture and proper domesticity. The frontier narrative, then, gave a particularly American “spin” to the discourse of civilization because it specified exactly how American culture had reached the top of the civilizational hierarchy (through the domestication of wilderness). White also argued that this set of ideas was “already conventional” and familiar to most Americans by the time Turner’s address was delivered. “The iconography of the frontier,” White argues, “had already prepared his audience to accept these bold claims as mere common sense.”2