Deere, John

views updated May 23 2018

Deere, John

Deere & Company


The old plows, for centuries made out of iron and wood, were no match for the sticky, heavy clay soils of the Central Plains of America. John Deere invented the modern steel plow to cut through the mud and clay of the American prairie with speed and efficiency. Deere's farm implements played one of the major roles in the transformation of America's wild lands into fertile, agriculturally productive farmlands. This inventor and manufacturer enabled the settling of America, and brought to all of America a first wave of farmers who populated and settled the wilderness of the undeveloped lands of the United States, with the help of Deere's plow

Personal Life

John Deere was born on the east coast of the United States, in Rutland, Vermont, on February 7, 1804. He was the third son of William and Sarah (Yates) Deere. John grew up in the country and was deeply touched by nature and the land. He attended school in Rutland and acquired an average education for this time period.

At age 17 he began to learn the blacksmith trade, beginning a four-year apprenticeship with Captain Benjamin Lawrence in Middlebury, Vermont. He was a good blacksmith and practiced it for the next 12 years, until he was 33.

Deere married Damaris Lamb of Granville, Connecticut, in 1827. She died in 1865, and two years later he married her younger sister, Lucinda Lamb.

Career Details

In 1837, John Deere moved to the small prairie community of Grand Detour, Illinois, where he opened a blacksmith shop. It was here that he became aware that the old iron plow he brought with him from Vermont was unsuited to penetrate the hard clay soil of the prairie.

Deere set about to invent a new kind of plow to deal with this raw and difficult land, to transform it into suitable agricultural farmland. Using trial-and-error techniques, Deere finally fashioned a curved plow, using both wrought iron and steel from a discarded circular saw blade. The blade was curved to one side, making it unnecessary to stop and push dirt aside by hand. An added benefit of Deere's new plow was that it could be pulled by horses instead of the oxen that the old plows required. With a steel share and a wrought iron moldboard (the upper part of the plow) of his own design, Deere was able to plow a dozen rows easily, nonstop.

By 1839, Deere had made and sold 10 of these new plows, and by 1840 he had 40 satisfied customers. Within a few years his output of plows increased to 1,000 a year. Part of the challenge of creating his new plow was finding high-quality steel. Deere first bought a quantity of steel from England and, after testing it, he negotiated the purchase of steel with Jones and Quigg in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania for the manufacture of steel plate.

His company was growing rapidly, and Deere decided he needed a better location for his business. In 1847 he sold out to his partner, Leonard Andrus, and moved from the isolated community of Grand Detour to Moline, Illinois, which had much better access to rail and river routes. In addition to better access to shipping transportation for his plows, Moline also offered better power resources for making them.

The John Deere Company was officially organized in 1857. Deere produced 10,000 plows during his first year, many of which were carried westward across the prairies by covered wagon. The plow Deere produced became known as the "singing plow" because of the high-pitched humming sound it made while sliding through the dirt.

A year later, Deere incorporated his company and became president of it. He also made his 20-year-old son, Charles Deere, his partner. In 1868, 10 years later, the company became Deere and Company. By that time, Deere, then age 64, had greatly diversified and expanded the output of his company. He was now making and selling not only plows, but mechanisms called cultivators, and other mechanisms that automatically baled hay.

John Deere died in 1886, leaving the business to his son to carry on. The John Deere Company continues to manufacture farm equipment but the company also expanded its operations to include lawn, construction, and forestry equipment.

At the company's 150th anniversary celebration in the 1980s former Deere & Company chairman Robert Hanson attributed the great success of the company to its solid corporate philosophy established by founder John Deere. "He stressed quality and value in his products and services. He stayed close to the customers in order to provide them with products they needed to meet their individual requirements. Above all, he emphasized fair dealings and the principle of mutual advantage for all who came in contact with his company. We've never lost sight of this business philosophy."

Social and Economic Impact

It is likely that the settling of the American West and the civilization of the plains came to pass for three reasons: the presence of the train, which was able to transport goods and people across America; the Homestead Act of 1862, which made vast areas of the western plains available to farmers, free—if they promised to cultivate it; and the steel "singing plow" invented and manufactured by John Deere.

The invention of the steel plow is often cited by scholars as the primary reason that agriculture came to the arid regions of the United States and other countries of the world. The plow was crucial to the development of agriculture as a major business for the world. Before the steel plow was invented, it is thought that some farmers gave up on trying to plow the sticky prairie soil and abandoned their farms. Deere's plow gave the farmers a tool that greatly increased their efficiency and productivity. The number of farmers who could stay in business as well as the number of acres that could be farmed increased dramatically due to Deere's plow. For example, in 1850, there were 5.9 million acres under cultivation in Iowa and Illinois. By 1870, this number had risen to 28.7 million.

Chronology: John Deere

1804: Born.

1821: Began blacksmith apprenticeship and career.

1837: Opened a blacksmith shop in Grand Detour, Illinois, and started work on a new plow.

1838: Established partnership with Leonard Andrus and produced and sold his first steel plows.

1846: Increased production to 1,000 plows annually.

1847: Moved to Moline, Illinois, and established a new company.

1858: Made his son, Charles Deere, a partner in the company.

1868: Incorporated John Deere and Company and became president of the company.

1886: Died.

Even after John Deere died, the Deere Company continued to be well known for its production of farm machinery and also its generosity. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Deere Company helped numerous farmers by extending special lines of credit to needy farmers and forgiving many debts owed by the farmers.

Sources of Information

Contact at: Deere & Company
1 John Deere Pl.
Moline, IL 61265-8098
Business Phone: (309)765-8000


Ardrey, R. L. American Agricultural Implements, 1894.

Arnold, Dave. Vintage John Deere. Stillwater, OK: Voyageur Press, 1995.

Barr, Linda. "John Deere: Blacksmith Helped Cultivate Success for Generations of Americans." Quad-City Times, 26 February 1995.

Brohel, Wayne, Jr. John Deere's Company: A History of Deere and Company and Its Times. New York: Doubleday, 1984.

Byers, Paula K. and Suzanne M. Bourgoin, eds. Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Research.

Clark, Neil M. John Deere, He Gave the World the Steel Plow. Moline: Deere and Co., 1937.

Garraty, John A. and Jerome l. Sternstein, eds. Encyclopedia of American Biography, New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

Hofstadter, Richard. The United States: The History of a Republic. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967.

Ingham, John N. Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1983.

Preston, Wheeler. American Biographies. Detroit: Gale Research, 1974.

World of Invention. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994.

Deere, John

views updated May 14 2018


With his invention of a practical steel plow John Deere (18041886) 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.

"The Story of John Deere," [cited January 4, 1999] available from the World Wide Web @

John Deere

views updated May 23 2018

John Deere

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.

Further Reading

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).

Additional Sources

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. □

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