With his invention of a practical steel plow John Deere (1804–1886) played a major role in opening up the Midwest in the United States to wide-scale productive agriculture. The pioneers' traditional iron and wood plows were no match for the rich, heavy soil of the Great Plains of the United States. Deere's modern steel plow could cut through the earth with speed and efficiency. As an inventor and manufacturer Deere helped enable the settling of the United States. He brought to the new frontier effective agricultural equipment for the first wave of hard-working productive farmers who populated and settled the wilderness of the newly-founded United States.
Deere was born in 1804 in Rutland, Vermont, the son of a tailor. He spent his boyhood and young adulthood in Middlebury, where he attended school and served a four-year apprenticeship as a blacksmith. In 1825 he became a journeyman blacksmith. His careful workmanship and ingenuity earned him respect throughout western Vermont, and he soon became a financial success as well. When hard times hit the region in the 1830s, Deere decided to leave his wife and family temporarily and venture west.
Deere traveled both overland and by canal and lake boats for several weeks before he arrived in Grand Detour, Illinois. It was a community settled by fellow-Vermonter Major Leonard Andrus and others from his native state. The need for a blacksmith was so great that two days after his arrival in 1836 Deere had built a forge and was busy at work.
Deere quickly realized the iron and wooden plows his customers brought from the East were unsuited to the heavy clay soil they found in the Midwest. The plowing was slow and frustrating because the area's rich soil clung to their plow bottoms, and after short intervals it was necessary to scrape the soil off. Deere set about to invent a new kind of plow to make the most of this fertile but formidable land.
From a broken saw blade, Deere fashioned a curbed plow blade, shaped by bending the material over a log. By 1838 he had made and sold three of these new plows. Continuing to refine his design he produced 10 improved plows in 1839 and 40 in 1840. Unlike other blacksmiths of his day who produced custom-ordered tools Deere went into the business of manufacturing plows before he had orders for them. He was more aggressive in selling them than any of his competitors, and his plows came to be considered the best available.
Deere's first plows had to be produced with whatever he could find at hand. By 1843 he had arranged for a shipment of special rolled steel from England. Shipped across the ocean and then up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, the steel finally arrived at the little plow factory in Grand Detour by wagon. In 1846, when his annual output had grown to 1,000 plows, the first slab of cast plow steel ever rolled in the United States was made for Deere. It was shipped from Pittsburgh to Moline, Illinois. Deere moved there in 1847 to take advantage of the Mississippi River's water power and transportation potential.
The John Deere Company was officially organized in Moline in 1857. That year the company produced 10,000 plows that were carried in nearly every covered wagon heading further west across the prairie. The Deere plow became known as the "singing plow" because of the high-pitched humming sound it made while slicing through the dirt.
In 1858 Deere took his son Charles into partnership, and in 1868 the firm was incorporated as Deere & Company. The company soon expanded to manufacture cultivators and other agricultural implements. Deere remained president until his death at age 82.
See also: Mississippi River, Steel Plow
Arnold, Dave. Vintage John Deere. Stillwater, OK: Voyageur Press, 1995.
Broehl, Wayne, Jr. John Deere's Company, a History of Deere and Company and Its Times. New York: Doubleday, 1984.
Clark, Neil M. John Deere, He Gave the World the Steel Plow. Moline: Deere and Co., 1937.
Hofstadter, Richard. The United States: The History of a Republic. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall Pub., 1967.
Louis, Arthur M. "The Hall of Fame for U.S. business leadership." Fortune, April 4, 1983.
"Deere, John." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/deere-john
"Deere, John." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved May 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/deere-john
The American inventor and manufacturer John Deere (1804-1886) was one of the first to design agricultural tools and machines to meet the specific needs of midwestern farmers.
John Deere was born in 1804 in modest circumstances in Rutland, Vt., the third son of William Rinold and Sarah Yates Deere. After receiving the limited education available to a country boy, Deere was apprenticed at 17 to a blacksmith in Middleburn, Vt. He completed his apprenticeship in 4 years and became a master craftsman.
In 1836 Deere left Vermont for Grand Detour, Ill., where he found ready employment in his trade. He prospered, for the farmers kept him fully occupied supplying their customary needs. They also presented him with an unusual problem posed by the local soil. The soil of Illinois and other prairie areas was not only difficult to plow because of its thick sod covering but also tended to clog the moldboards of plows. Deere tried covering the moldboard and cutting a plowshare from salvaged steel. Steel surfaces tended to shed the thick soil and were burnished by the abrasive action of the soil. Deere's new plows, introduced in 1839, sold readily, and within a decade the production of plows by Deere and his new associate, Leonard Andrus, exceeded 1,000 per year. Deere parted company with his partners to move to Moline, Ill., which was better situated for a market, transportation, and raw materials.
Repeated experiments produced an excellent moldboard and demonstrated that further improvements in the plow were dependent on using better-quality steel. Deere imported such steel from an English firm until a Pittsburgh firm cast the first plow steel in the United States for him. Deere's production of plows soared to 10,000 by 1857 as agriculture in the Midwest grew to meet the unprecedented demands of the growing home and export market.
The business was incorporated in 1868 with Deere and his son, Charles, in the executive positions. During the Civil War the company prospered as it diversified its output to include wagons, carriages, and a full line of agricultural equipment. It also adopted modern administrative practices and built an efficient sales, distribution, and service organization which reached into all parts of America. Deere remained active in the management of the company until his fatal illness in 1886. He was succeeded by his son.
John Deere married twice. His first wife, Demarius Lamb, died in 1865. Two years later he married her younger sister, Lucinda Lamb.
Full-length studies of Deere are Neil M. Clark, John Deere: He Gave to the World the Steel Plow (1937), and Darragh Aldrich, The Story of John Deere: A Saga of American Industry (1942). See also Stewart H. Holbrook, Machines of Plenty: Pioneering in American Agriculture (1955), and Wayne D. Rasmussen, Readings in the History of American Agriculture (1960).
Broehl, Wayne G., John Deere's company: a history of Deere & Company and its times, New York, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1984.
Collins, David R., Pioneer plowmaker: a story about John Deere, Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 1990. □
"John Deere." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/john-deere
"John Deere." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved May 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/john-deere
John Deere, 1804–86, American industrialist, manufacturer of agricultural implements, b. Rutland, Vt. He was one of the pioneers of the steel plow industry. A blacksmith by trade, he established (1837) a shop at Grand Detour, Ill. There he was associated with Leonard Andrus in making (1837) the first Grand Detour steel plow. In 1843, Deere and Andrus formed a partnership for the manufacture of plows. The partnership was terminated in 1847, when Deere moved to Moline, Ill. There he established a factory that in time made other farm implements as well as plows and became known throughout the world. The firm was incorporated in 1868 as Deere and Company.
"Deere, John." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/deere-john
"Deere, John." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved May 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/deere-john