After a meager education, John grew up in his father’s tailor shop. He polished and sharpened hundreds of needles by running them through sand. This polishing helped the needles sew through soft leather.
Then at the age of 17, John decided to become a blacksmith apprentice.
By 1825, John had opened his own blacksmith shop.
John Deere got married in 1827, and soon moved his growing family west to Grand Detour, Illinois. It was here in Illinois that John would raise nine children.
As there were no other blacksmiths in the area, John’s blacksmith shop did very well. John kept noticing, however, that the local farmers cast-iron plows were not working very well in the tough prairie soil of Illinois.
John remembered his father’s tailor shop and all those polished needles.
Then one day, John realized that a plow made out of highly polished steel just might be better able to handle the soil conditions of the prairie, especially the sticky clay.
John set upon working out a correct shape for the moldboard and developing a self-scouring steel plow.
There are various other versions for the inspiration behind John Deere’s famous first steel plow.
In one version, John was thought to have recalled the way tines of a polished steel pitchfork moved through hay and soil and thought that same effect could be obtained for a plow.
In 1837, John Deere continued to develop and design his new plow.
By early 1838, John completed his first plow and sold it to local farmer, Lewis Crandall.
Crandall quickly spread word of his success with John Deere’s steel plow. Subsequently two other farmers placed orders for a John Deere Plow.
By 1841, John Deere was manufacturing between 75-100 plows per year.
In 1843, John Deere partnered with Leonard Andrus to increase production and keep up with demand. However, the partnership became strained due to each man’s stubbornness.
Leonard Andrus opposed a proposed railroad through Grand Detour, while John Deere realized the potential the railroad would provide. John sought to sell plows to customers outside Grand Detour, and Andrus was happy with what they had.
John Deere also is thought to have distrusted Andrus’ accounting practices.
In 1848, John Deere dissolved his partnership with Andrus and moved to Moline, Illinois.
Moline had become the local transportation hub on the Mississippi River.
By 1855, John Deere’s new factory had manufactured more than 10,000 plows.
John Deere’s product became known as “The Plow that Broke the Plains” and is commemorated as such on an historic marker back in his hometown of Rutland, Vermont.
John Deere once said;
“I will never put my name on a product that does not have in it the best that is in me.”
In 1868, John incorporated his business as Deere & Company.
Later in life John Deere focused most of his attention on civil and political affairs.
He served as President of the National Bank of Moline, a director of the Moline Free Public Library, and was a trustee of the First Congregational Church.
John Deere also served as Moline’s mayor for two years but due to chest pains and dysentery he refused to run for a second term.
John Deere died at his home (known as Red Cliff) May 17, 1886.
Today, Deere & Company is one of the largest agricultural and construction equipment manufacturers in the world.
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