“Nothing Runs Like a Deere” – A History of John Deere’s First Machines

john deere

Heavy Machinery is one of the largest contributors of the construction industry. However, it isn’t the only sector that have been able to reap the benefits of heavy machinery. Within the agricultural industry, machinery devices can be used to cultivate and harvest crops as well as help with soil maintenance and many other tasks. With that in mind, this week we take a look back at where it all began for the largest agriculture machinery company in the world, John Deere!

John Deere is the brand name of Deere & Company. It is an American corporation that manufactures agricultural, construction, forestry machinery, diesel engines, plus many more. The Deere & Company headquarters is based in Moline, Illinois.

Founded in 1836, Deere & Company began when John Deere moved to Illinois in 1836 to escape bankruptcy and start his life over. Before he relocated, Deere was already a skilled and established blacksmith. With his skills Deere opened a shop in Grand Detour in 1837. This allowed him to serve as a general repairman for the village. Alongside this Deere was able to manufacture a selection of tools such as pitchforks and shovels.

Many farmers in the area had trouble with the sticky rich Midwestern soil, which used to get stuck to their iron or wooden plows. As a result their equipment had to be scraped off and cleaned every few feet! John Deere set out to fix this issue. He manufactured an item that set him apart from the rest. Deere found a broken steel sawblade and reshaped the blade. The different material plus the new shape of the blade resulted in a self-scouring steel plow. The smooth-sided steel plow ensured the soil that was stuck was swiftly cleared off allowing for less frequent cleaning for the farmers. This plow greatly aided migration into the American Great Plains in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

So let’s take a look:

Early John Deere plow, circa 1845, made in Grand Detour, Illinois. Displayed at The Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan

The traditional way of doing business was to make the product to order. This style was very slow. Word of his products began to spread quickly. As Deere’s business started to pick up, he realised that this was not going to be a viable business or manufacturing method. He had to increase the rate of production by manufacturing plows before putting them up for sale.


As his business rapidly grew, Deere realised his shop no longer was a big enough space for him to continue manufacturing his tools. Over the years that followed, Deere went into business with a number of partners that allowed him to construct factories for the production of his plows. In 1853 Deere bought Tate and Gould’s interests in the company and was instead joined in the business by his son Charles Deere. At that time, the company was manufacturing a variety of farm equipment products in addition to plows. Including wagons, corn planters, and cultivators. However, as the nationwide financial recession struck, it took its toll on the company and in order to prevent bankruptcy, the company was reorganised. Deere sold his interests in the business to his son-in-law, Christopher Webber, and his son Charles, who would take on most of his father’s managerial roles. However, he still remained a central part of the company until it was reorganised once again in 1868 to incorporate all its contributors, Deere & Company.

The company’s core focus remained on the agricultural implements. However, increased competition during the early 1900s from the new International Harvester Company led the company to expand its offerings in the implement business. However it was the production of gasoline tractors that came to define Deere & Company’s operations during the 20th century.

1903: John Deere Plow & Cultivators Co.’s New Orleans House, 316-318 St. Charles Street. (Since demolished.)

Deere & Company briefly experimented with its own tractor models, the most successful of which was the Dain All-Wheel-Drive, but in the end decided to continue its foray into the tractor business by purchasing the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company in 1918, which manufactured the popular Waterloo Boy tractor at its facilities in Waterloo, Iowa. This was until 1923 when the John Deere Model D was introduced. The D had the longest run of any model of John Deere tractor, the styled and unstyled versions ran from March 1, 1923 until July 3, 1953.

John Deere continues to grow as a company and have now employed over 67,000 people worldwide. It is the largest agriculture machinery company in the world. John Deere strives to deliver sustainable, intelligent, connected machines and applications that will revolutionise production systems in agriculture and the construction industry.

Read more of the latest news from us

Plant Planet Magazine is available online today

Get updates on the go, follow us on Twitter