200 Years of Illinois: Near and Deere

john deere logoFleeing debt, John Deere made his way from Vermont to Illinois with a dream: to earn big money making tools. The blacksmith settled in the charmingly-named Grand Detour, Illinois, and he soon lived up that town’s name by eventually turning his one-man tool business into one of the great Midwestern success stories.

Deere’s cast steel plow, fashioned from a saw, changed prairie and plain, allowing farmers to plow a field without constantly cleaning the tool. Iron and wooden plows went by the board. People flocked to the middle of the country to buy and use them on inexpensive land, and an agricultural revolution followed.

The company behind The Plow That Broke the Plains eventually made its home in Moline, in order to use the Mississippi River for transport. History tells us that Deere’s company shipped over 10,000 plows per year by the mid-1850s.

Until International Harvester mounted a challenge in the implement business in the early 1900s—a challenge Deere & Company met with its gasoline-powered tractor—John Deere’s brainchild ruled the roost. By then, Deere himself had retired to run a bank and the public library, before taking a term as Moline’s mayor. Deere died on May 17, 1886, leaving behind a business that included a nine-acre manufacturing operation under all-electric lights.

Deere’s tractor trade began in the early 1910s, when the company tested a three-wheeler. It didn’t turn out so well, and the company leaders had less than total enthusiasm for tractors, anyway, perhaps because they had already failed with bicycles.

But the company entered the tractor business by the end of the decade, once again changing agriculture—worldwide, no less. Today’s Deere & Company makes all kinds of machinery, including earthmovers and lawnmowers, and the trademark green is a ubiquitous part of the landscape from Ohio to the Rocky Mountains, and beyond.