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John Deere
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John Deere

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John Deere was an American inventor and manufacturer of agricultural equipment. In 1837, Deere started an eponymous company that went on to become an international powerhouse.

Who Was John Deere?

A blacksmith by trade, John Deere determined that the wood and cast-iron plow in use at the time was ill suited to the challenges presented by prairie soil, so after some experimentation he crafted a new kind of plow and sold his first one in 1838. He had devised 10 improved plows by the following year, and 40 more the year after that. By 1857, his annual output of plows was 10,000. By 1868, Deere and his partners incorporated, founding Deere & Company. By 2012, the company's worth had climbed to more than $40 billion.

Early Years

John Deere was born in Rutland, Vermont, on February 7, 1804. His father left for England and disappeared in 1808, and, subsequently, Deere was raised by his mother. He was educated in the public school system and began his storied industrial career as a blacksmith’s apprentice at age 17, setting up his first smithy trade just four years later. He spent the next 12 years keeping busy with his trade in various towns around Vermont.

Facing a tough business environment, in 1837, a 33-year-old Deere packed up and headed west, eventually settling in Grand Detour, Illinois. There, he set up another blacksmith shop. The following year, he sent for his wife, Demarius Lamb, and their five children (they would go on to have four more).

The Man and His Plow

As a blacksmith, Deere found himself making the same repairs to plows again and again, and realized that the wood and cast-iron plow used in the eastern United States—designed for its light, sandy soil—was not up to the task of breaking through the thick, heavy soils of prairieland. Experimenting with new plow designs and pitching the finished product to local farmers, he was able to sell three plows by 1838. He had produced 10 by the following year, and 40 more by 1840. Increasing demand in 1843 led Deere to partner with Leonard Andrus to produce more plows, and by 1846, production had risen dramatically — that year, Deere and Andrus produced nearly 1,000 plows.

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The following year, Deere decided that Grand Detour, Illinois, was lacking as a hub of commerce, so he sold his interest in the blacksmith shop to Andrus and moved to Moline, Illinois, located on the Mississippi River. There, he was able to offer the advantages of water power and cheaper transportation. Deere soon began importing British steel, which successfully sped up manufacturing—his company made 1,600 plows in 1850, and began producing other tools to complement its line of plows. Deere’s next move was to contract with Pittsburgh manufacturers to develop comparable steel plates, thereby avoiding the troubles of overseas importation.

Personal Life and Death

Following his wife's 1865 death, Deere married her sister, Lucinda Lamb, in June 1867. Deere was active in the community of Moline, Illinois, throughout his life, even serving as the city's mayor for two years. 

He died on May 17, 1886, at his home in Moline.

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