Deere & Company

Our activities as a nation are industrial, not military. American history can furnish no subject more inspiring than the achievements of men whose life stories are told in the growth of the industries which they alone created, especially when those industries have developed into national or international importance, as a result of constructive policies. Military achievement is a fruitful source of patriotic inspiration, but should he drawn upon with caution. It is fitting that on-coming generations should draw a portion of their inspirations from the soldiers of industry among whom they must cast their lot. Men who build up great industries, give employment to working men, and wrest trade from foreign countries, should be as much objects of national admiration as military heroes. After all, the real civilization of a country is measured by its industries and not by the size or efficiency of its armies. Progress results from the birth of new desires and the growth of new necessities. Satisfying these new desires and supplying these new necessities call forth men of genius who devise the ways and means and lay the foundations for new industries. The necessity for, a plow that would scour in the black, sticky prairie soil of the west enlisted the genius and energy of John Deere, who invented the steel plow, which is now the corner stone of the great manufacturing industry of Deere and Company. Like other men who have achieved success, he had an uphill fight. The story of the pluck and energy displayed and of the obstacles over-come until success was finally realized, constitutes an important chapter in our history. While John Deere did not begin work on the steel plow until after he was thirty years of age, his previous experience had much to do with his success in this, the greatest effort of his life. He was a natural mechanic and a thoroughly trained blacksmith. He also gained considerable experience that proved helpful in later years, while making hoes and other farm tools. In 1837 Mr. Deere joined the great stream of hardy settlers then pouring into the west, where opportunities for gaining fortune seemed unlimited. He landed in Grand Detour, Illinois, with his experiences and about seventy-five dollars in cash. He immediately began to work at his trade, and coming in daily contact with fanners soon learned that their greatest need was a plow that would scour in their soil. His active mind began to work on the problem of producing such a plow, and is was not long before he had a solution. The first steel plow was constructed. It proved a success. A new epoch in agriculture was ushered in and a new and great industry dates from that time. The expression, “new epoch,” is used advisedly. In 1837, when John Deere built his first. steel plow, American farms did not produce enough to supply home consumption. The ground was possessed of virgin fertility. but implements were so crude that the vast areas available could not be prepared profitably for seeding. The steel plow did more than any other agency to turn the tide of affairs. Now, thanks to its use, this country is the greatest exporter of food stuffs, our farms producing a large surplus over and above our daily wants. The handling of this surplus provides employment for an army of working men and is the basic support of most of the great industries for which we are justly famous. The industry created out of an idea in a private blacksmith shop, has grown hand in hand with agriculture until it has attained the present imposing magnitude of Deere and Company. Its products are known the world over and the name of John Deere ranks with those of Fulton. Watt, Whitney and others of equal importance. Strange as it may seem, the first difficulty in marketing the new steel plows was to get farmers to try them. Several manufacturers had taken advantage of the demand for a self-polishing plow, to market plows which were said to scour, but in reality would not. John Deere stenciled his plows “self polisher,” and displayed them in front of his shop. Passing farmers would look at them and remark: “self-polisher be d___d, there never will be a plow that will scour in this prairie soil.” Mr. Deere on hearing such a remark would ask, “stranger, where do you live?” On being told, he would reply, “take this plow home with you and try it. If it does not scour. I will send and get it without any expense to you. If it does scour, I want you to pay me for it.” Even such liberal terms interested only a few at first, the rest preferring not to be bothered with trying an implement which they were sure would not work. Only two plows were put out in 1838, and but ten in 1839. After this, however, the demand increased very rapidly and the great difficulty was to supply it. In fact, at no time has the demand for John Deere plows been completely supplied, which accounts for the steady, healthy growth in their manufacture. It soon became apparent that Grand De-tour, because of its lack of power and transportation facilities, was not a suitable place for a large plow manufacturing industry. In those days there were no railroads. Water was the only economical source of power and avenue of transportation. Mr. Deere, together with Mr. Tate, his foreman, traveled about the country looking for a desirable location. They finally decided on Moline, Illinois, and moved there in 1847, being attracted by the excellent water power and transportation facilities afforded by the Mississippi River at that point. The manufacture of plows was begun immediately, and by the Autumn of 1848, the business had grown to such an extent that it became necessary to form a more efficient organization. Mr. J. M. Gould, who was then a member of the firm of Deere, Tate and Gould, proceeded to organize the office force, and establish a system of accounts. He also took hold of the selling end of the business, and carried out the plans for financing the company on a larger scale than before. Merchants in those days would not buy plows outright, as they did other articles of merchandise. It was, therefore, necessary to leave the plows at the various agencies to be sold on. commission. They were to be paid for at the time of sale, but many farmers gave their notes instead of cash. Dealers would not advance anything on these notes and it was necessary to wait until their maturity in order to get money. In the face of such conditions, and the lack of local banks, it was often difficult to finance the firm. Money had to be borrowed mostly from individuals. Largely for these reasons, there was no pay-day for the employes. Plows were traded to the merchants of Moline, Rock Island, Davenport, Muscatine and other nearby towns and orders given on them to the workmen for what they wanted. Money was never paid out for wages, unless an employe left or was discharged. In such cases, any wages due were settled for in cash. It was also difficult to transfer money, because exchange could be purchased only occasionally. In the summer time money was sent to St. Louis for this purpose by the steamboat clerks, but in winter, even this convenience was cut off. Another difficulty was to get the plows to the various agencies. It was necessary to ship them by river to distributing points and then haul them by team to the merchants throughout the interior. This was a slow and uncertain process, but the only one available. These illustrations serve to show the inconveniences that, in those days, handicapped the conduct of a business of more than local consequence. However, each difficulty and discouragement was surmounted. John Deere plows were winning their way and the firm gathered additional strength with every victory over these adverse conditions. In 1852, both Mr. Tate and Mr. Gould retired from the” firm, and Mr. Deere continued the business alone. The demand for his plows steadily increased and the output was increased as fast as possible, but could never be made to equal the demand, a condition which still exists. In 1857 ten thous-and plows were manufactured. This was considered an enormous output in those days, and it was, conditions considered. By 1868 John Deere’s business had grown to such proportions that a more complete organization of the manufacturing and selling departments became necessary. Accordingly Deere and Company was incorporated, with John Deere as president, C. H. Deere, his son, as vice-president and general manager, and S. H. Velie as secretary. Deere and Company’s growth has always been steady, sure, and in response to a demand for its products that has retrained in advance of its ability to supply. . The company has grown from an idea developed in a little country blacksmith shop, through the factory stage, into a great industry with magnificent manufacturing and selling organizations. It is a fitting monument to John Deere, its founder, and C. H. Deere, whose genius for organization made it the great industry it now is. Today the floor space of Deere and Company’s factory equals the area of a good sized farm and a complete implement is turned out every thirty seconds of the working year. In addition to this, over a million plow shares are made annually to equip John Deere plows already in use. This one item alone exceeds the entire output of many plow factories. Facilities are ample for shipping fifty complete car loads of implements a day. The system of overhead tracks, upon which implements and parts are conveyed from one department to the other, is so perfect that no handling is necessary from the time they leave the paint shop until in front of the car door for shipment. Great distributing companies have been organized in the principal centers throughout the country, some of these companies being the largest of their kind in the world. The Deere organizations furnish a livelihood to about twenty thousand people, and cover the civilized world in their operations. Wherever the American citizen goes, he finds that John Deere plows have preceded him. Agricultural success makes the railroads possible and keeps the wheels of industry and commerce in constant motion. The steel plow made agriculture a success. It emancipated the farmer from bondage to the soil, enabled him to build public schools in which to educate his children and comfortable homes in which to enjoy the comforts of life. When history finally casts up events and determines what is worth while, the faces of John and C. H. Deere will be seen in the hall of fame. The industry which the one created and the other developed will be an object to which every true American will point with pride.


City of Moline 


Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908