The story of the John Deere organization

I have a copy of General Catalog No. 200, issued in 1940 by the John Deere Plow Co. of Columbus, Ohio. The book’s index lists all the products offered by Deere at the time, starting with the Advance Endgate Seeder and ending with the Windrow Pick-Up Press.
After the index is a photograph of a large, five-story, brick building that was the branch house in Columbus, Ohio. No address is given, but the building has probably been razed by now. Next comes a portrait of John Deere himself, taken in his later years, over the caption: “He Gave To The World The Steel Plow.”
“The Story of John Deere”, which is a dramatic account of the building of the steel plow, as well as the later development of Deere & Company follows, and I quote:

* * *

It was the spring of 1837.
The frontier village of Grand Detour hummed with activity. In little knots, the settlers gathered around the general store, at the sawmill, at the shop of Grand Detour’s blacksmith, John Deere.

No stage coach, bringing word of the folks back east; no breathless rider, carrying tidings of Indian warfare, had created this stir.
Far deeper than these was the force that set the small village humming that morning in 1837— for here was the genesis of a new idea; the beginning of a new hope that was to stir a great nation from its formative growing pains.

The Need for a self-cleaning plow

For weeks, now, there had been talk of a new plow, a plow that would shed the rich prairie soil in the years after the virgin sod was turned. There was talk of a man with vision enough to conceive a new idea; with foresight sufficient to carry it through to realization.
And great was the need for a new and different plow, for on every hand the pioneers were leaving the fertile plains to return home to eastern farms that yielded grudgingly, or to clear the timbered highlands where the iron-patched wood plow would handle the looser upland soil satisfactorily.

The pioneer villagers had seen the young blacksmith carrying his plow into the field; had watched him return, disappointed, but not discouraged. They had heard the rhythmic beat of his hammer far into the night as he worked to perfect the great idea.
John Deere works out his great idea

Now had come the day for a field trial. The bustling village called a holiday as John Deere shouldered his steel plow, and carried it to the Rock River to be ferried across to the Lewis Crandall farm where, admittedly, was to be found the stickiest soil. In that audience of pioneer farmers and tradesmen, were the skeptics who scoffed at any new idea; there were those who hoped, with the hope of despair, that here might be the solution to their problem; there were others who, knowing the determination and skill of the pioneer blacksmith, realized that great plains history was to be made that day.

His steel plow a success

With farmer Crandall’s horse furnishing power, John Deere proceeded with his test. Furrow after furrow turned from the gleaming steel moldboard, which, instead of choking and clogging, grew brighter as each furrow polished the glistening steel surface.
A plow that would scour; a plow of steel that would handle the sticky prairie soil in the years after the breaking. The pioneer plowman’s greatest problem was solved – the opening of the prairie land was assured.

Civilization moves westward

New Englanders flocked to the promising frontier village. Taverns, stores, flour mills and sawmills sprang up. A bustling stage coach line began operations. And, John Deere’s steel plow factory, established there in 1837, began to expand rapidly to meet the demand of pioneer farmers for plows that scour in the rich, black prairie soil.
Had John Deere remained in Grand Detour, his industrial genius more than likely would have made the dreams of its founding fathers come true. But, after ten busy years, the pioneer plow-maker sold out his interests and moved west to establish his factory at Moline, on the banks of the Mississippi.
Then came the long pull to the turn of the century. Hard times, dull times, times of slow revival and times of high prosperity – all in succession!

Times that harried the weak at heart; times that buoyed the spirits and tempered courage.
Yet, the country came through it all, gloriously.
Men of vision and courage – men who worked hard and were strong in their faith, advanced properly, building the permanent civilization of the West.

The growth of the John Deere organization

And, the organization founded by John Deere grew through all those times. From a single anvil in a one-forge shop, the industry grew and developed until today, over a hundred years after the conception of the great idea, the story of that great idea that pushed back a frontier, and the vision and foresight of the man who conceived it, are known wherever civilized man tills the soil. It is reflected in the great John Deere factories where skilled workmen carry on in the tradition of the founder – that no obstacle to progress is insurmountable where skill and persistence are combined with vision and foresight.

* * *

End of quote
Whew! Mighty flowery writing, but all the farm machinery manufacturers of that day hired professional advertising men who blended fact and fancy in writing about the company’s products and history.

About the Author

Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules. More Stories by Sam Moore

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