Hidden Corners of History - The John Deere Story



Jarrod E. Stephens

The Ashland Beacon


   Each day as the sun rises across this wonderful country of the United States of America, farmers, their families, and workhands rise early to begin their daily tasks of providing food for our country and the world. At the turn of a key, many uniquely green tractors come to life and churn out countless hours of work to make farming more profitable and less backbreaking. Although many aspects of America and the farm life have changed since the early 1800s, the desire to improve life for farmers continues to be the driving force of a company that humbly began when a young blacksmith named John Deere recognized the struggles that farmers were facing and decided to literally put his hand to the plow and improve it.

   Born in Vermont in 1804, John Deere was primarily raised by a single mother and became a blacksmithing apprentice when he was 17 years old. Considering the fact that we live in such a disposable world, it’s hard to fully understand the importance of a blacksmith in early America. Instead of throwing away metal objects when they were broken and worn, they could be taken to a blacksmith for repair. Forging metal and shaping it into usable tools and wares and repairing worn items was a skill that was highly sought after. 

   In spite of his quality work, economic hardships in Vermont caused great struggles, so John Deere decided to leave his wife and four children in Vermont and move to Grand Detour, Illinois to open a blacksmithing shop. Deere was hopeful that his business would thrive, and he’d be able to have his wife and his five children to join him in Illinois. 

   When John Deere moved to the Midwest, farmers were tilling the land with primitive types of plows and equipment that were always needing repaired. His blacksmithing skills never had a chance to get rusty. In fact, business boomed for Deere. Within a year he was able to bring his family to be with him. 

   It is interesting to note that farmers rely on their yields springing up from the soil and Deere did much the same as his blacksmithing talents were continually in demand. The sticky soil in the Midwest made plowing the fields with cast iron plows a painstaking task. The soil had to be scraped from the plow every few feet and Deere began putting his ideas to the drawing board. He discovered that the coarse cast iron used to construct the plows was rough and porous and it lacked enough curvature. Good steel was hard to come by, but John Deere acquired an old sawblade that he used to create a plow that would change the course of farming history. 

   The high-quality steel was heated, shaped, and polished until Deere felt that the sticky soil couldn’t possibly stick to it. Deere tested his prototype on a nearby field and was somewhat pleased with it. Instead of having to stop and clean the moldboard, it “self-polished” and cleaned itself. It was an instant hit in the community. 

   As demand grew, so did the need for quality steel to produce the plows. Deere decided to relocate his business to a location where the raw materials could be more easily shipped. He chose to move to Moline, Illinois along the shores of the Mississippi River. Of course, success and fame were not instant. It took 10 years of hard work to get the company to where it was producing 1,000 plows each year. As production numbers grew, John Deere never abandoned his insistence that every plow produced would be made with the highest quality materials and workmanship. Deere stated, “I never put on the market a poorly-made implement.”

   In 1868, Deere and Company was incorporated and was still in its infancy. Of course, not too many folks today who own anything with the name John Deere on it are holding to a steel self-polishing plow. Most likely if you have anything Deere it’s a lawn mower or tractor. Deere and the leadership within the company looked well beyond the times and continued to be forerunners in producing farming equipment and implements that would help American farmers turn the Midwest into what we know as the “breadbasket” of the country. 

   Nearly 200 years after his first plow was produced, the John Deere company continues to produce some of the finest equipment and state-of-the-art advancements in agriculture. Farming was the first occupation that God gave mankind, and since that vocation was established, farmers have long been the backbone of the civilized world. Like an eager seed that was planted in the rich soils of the Midwest, the John Deere company’s roots have spread across the globe making sure that every season, no matter your location, is certainly Deere season.

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