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Deere, John - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: John Deere

company plow steel plows

(1804-1886)
Deere & Company

Overview

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.

Defining Theater - FEW CLUES REMAIN., NOT ENTERTAINMENT., NO ACTORS., NO STAGE., NO ACTION., EVALUATING PERFORMANCES., SOURCES [next] [back] Dee, Ruby (1923–)

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