When the farm implement giant, International Harvester Company, was formed in 1902 by the merger of the McCormick, Deering, Milwaukee, Plano and Champion harvester lines, it immediately gave the new firm about 90 percent of the binder and 80 percent of the mower production in the U.S.
Although such a powerful company worried the management of Deere & Co., they consoled themselves with the thought that while IHC made harvesters, Deere made plows and cultivators and therefore their product lines were mutually exclusive.
C.C. Webber, head of the Deere branch in Minneapolis, wrote to a Deere dealer who was begging for a harvester to sell, “Our policy … has been to keep hands off the binder business, and that will be our policy in the future.”
IHC, however, began to buy up even more companies, adding new implements to their line at every turn, although they had not yet bought a plow company. IH was said to have four or five salesmen in each territory to Deere’s one, and these aggressive drummers began to hurt Deere, especially with their Weber wagons and Keystone and Osborne hay tools (at the time hay tools were being made for Deere by Dain).
President Charles Deere was sick during much of this time and Deere management was conservative, almost seeming to have their collective heads in the sand in the face of the IHC threat. Deere died in 1907 and his son-in-law, William Butterworth, took over and made a few tentative steps to acquire the Frost & Wood harvester factory in Canada.
At the time Canadian duties on imported machinery were so high that implement manufacturers found it cheaper to have factories in Canada make the machines that were to be sold there (IHC was then selling both Oliver and P&O plows north of the border).
Deere’s unsuccessful effort to acquire Frost & Wood had alerted IHC, who then became worried about the threat of Deere competing in the harvester field. As a defensive measure, IHC’s general manager, Alexander Legge, proposed that IHC try to cut a deal to supply binders for Deere to sell, thus staving off a proprietary Deere machine.
Other events intervened, however. In December of 1909, William Butterworth, hoping to gain some harvester expertise for Deere, was trying to hire an IHC employee named McAllister. IHC’s president, Cyrus McCormick Jr., got wind of the deal and called Butterworth to propose a meeting.
At the meeting, McCormick said he realized that Deere intended to get into the harvester business and went on to say that for years his salesmen and dealers had been asking for an IH plow to sell. He then hinted (not so subtly) that ” … if the plow people went into the harvester business we might find ourselves drawn into the plow business.”
McCormick made a proposal: if Deere needed a binder, such machines could be furnished by IHC, in return for Deere supplying plows to Harvester. McCormick said that “He had several times thought it would be important if the interests of the two companies could have some (common interest) … “
After a lot of beating around the bush, Butterworth, according to McCormick, replied, that “He personally would welcome any arrangement by which they (Deere) could get harvesters from us (IHC) and give us plows if (we) required them, and he was also very glad to have this opportunity of coming together for any general conference which might be beneficial. He would be glad to think things over and see me again … “
Three weeks later, the two men met again over lunch at the Chicago Club. The agendas of both executives seemed to have been to keep the other out of his most profitable line: Deere out of harvesters and IHC out of plows. There was much sparring and many proposals and counter proposals.
Incredibly, Butterworth even proposed that Deere sell the full IH line in the U.S. and that IH sell only in other countries, including of course Deere plows, an idea that (not surprisingly) McCormick rejected out of hand.
McCormick then tried for an agreement that Deere would stay out of harvesters and IH would forego plows for a set term of years, to which Butterworth sort of went along, but not quite.
The two men finally parted with a possible Deere and Harvester alliance in Canada, with a Canadian factory operated by joint action of the two firms. Nothing ever came of the proposals, and neither IHC nor Deere records give any clue as to why.
IHC soon bought the Parlin & Orendorff and the Chattanooga plow companies, giving them a full plow line. Shortly after the McCormick-Butterworth meeting, Deere management finally decided to take the steps necessary to become a full line company.
Acquisitions included the Marseilles Manufacturing Co., corn shellers and portable elevators; Kemp & Burpee, manure spreaders; Dain Mfg. Co., hay tools; the Syracuse Chilled Plow Co., chilled iron plows; and the Van Brunt Mfg. Co., grain drills.
They also built the John Deere Harvester Works at East Moline to build grain and corn binders. In addition to their core plows, harrows and cultivators, by 1912, Deere was making corn planters, disc harrows, hay rakes and loaders, farm wagons and buggies, manure spreaders, grain elevators, corn shellers, grain drills and seeding machinery, chilled plows and, by 1913, corn and grain binders, and were in a position to give International Harvester a run for its money.
You have to wonder what might have happened if William Butterworth and Cyrus McCormick had come to terms back in 1909. Would we today be collecting stuff painted red with green wheels, and yellow lettering that reads “McCormick-Deere?”