John Deere Biography

John Deere, the founder of ‘Deere & Company’, is a renowned figure in the agricultural and construction equipment manufacturing industry. With humble beginnings as a blacksmith’s apprentice, he rose to prominence by developing and manufacturing a steel plow specifically designed for the challenging soil of the Midwest. His commitment to excellence is evident in his famous quote, “I will never put my name on a product that does not have in it the best that is in me.” Today, his company is a global leader in the field, and his innovative contributions continue to shape the industry.

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 82
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Demarias Lamb Deere (m. 1827–1865), Lucenia Lamb Deere (m. 1867–1886)
    • Father: William Rinold Deere
    • Mother: Sarah Yates Deere
    • Siblings: Elizabeth Deere, Francis Deere, George Deere, Jane Deere, William Deere Jr
    • Children: Alice Marie (1844–1900), Charles (1836–1907), Ellen Sarah (1832–1897), Emma Charlotte (1840–1911), Frances Alma (1834–1851), Francis Albert (1828–1848), Hiram Alvin (1842–1844), Jeanette (1830–1916), Mary Frances (1851–1851)
  • Born Country: United States
  • Steel Inventors
  • Died on: May 17, 1886
  • Place of death: Moline, Illinois, United States
  • U.S. State: Vermont
  • Founder/Co-Founder: Deere & Company
  • More Facts:
    • Education: Middlebury College

Childhood & Early Life

John Deere was born on February 7, 1804, in Rutland, Vermont, United States, to William Rinold Deere and Sarah Yates Deere. His family moved to Middlebury, Vermont, in 1805, and his father boarded a ship to England in 1808 in the hope of claiming an inheritance, but presumably died at sea.

His mother raised him with the little money she made and he was sent to the local public school to gain rudimentary education before attending Middlebury College. He was only 17 years old when he became an apprentice of successful Middlebury blacksmith Captain Benjamin Lawrence, and set up his own smithy business four years later in 1826.

Career

John Deere, who initially worked in Burlington, set up his first shop in Vergennes and then branched to Leicester, and for the next 12 years, worked in various towns around Vermont. As the business slowed down in 1837, he moved west and settled in Grand Detour, Illinois, where there was larger demand for crafty blacksmiths.

He soon found out that he was making the same repairs again and again, and realized that the cast-iron plows he made in the east were ill-suited for the tough prairie soil of Illinois. There are different stories about his inspiration, but he made a self-scouring steel plow that would be able to handle the sticky clay of the prairie, and manufactured the first commercial cast-steel plow in 1837.

His first steel plow, made in 1838, was sold to a local farmer named Lewis Crandall, whose good experience with the product secured two more orders from his neighbors by the end of the year. The demand for his plow grew exponentially in the following years, and he was producing about 75-100 plows per year by 1841.

In order to keep up with the rising demands, he partnered with Leonard Andrus in 1843; however, the partnership was strained as the opinions of the two men often clashed. Nevertheless, they together produced nearly a thousand plows in 1846 before Deere dissolved the partnership with Andrus in 1848.

In 1848, he moved to Moline, Illinois, located on the Mississippi River, to take advantage of the city’s water power, coal and cheaper transportation, and subsequently began importing British steel to speed up production. His company made approximately 1600 plows in 1850 and soon began producing other tools to complement the famed plow.

He eventually contracted with Pittsburgh manufacturers to develop steel plates of comparable quality so that he could stop importing from overseas companies. His factory produced over 10,000 plows by 1855, and he continued to make high-quality equipment despite the ‘Panic of 1857’ that had engulfed the US.

As the financial situation of the country improved, he handed over the day-to-day operations of his company to his only surviving son, Charles Deere, and later incorporated his business as Deere & Company in 1868. In 1863, he made the ‘Hawkeye Riding Cultivator’, the first ride-on plow, which was pulled by horses.

Family & Personal Life

In 1827, soon after establishing his own blacksmith shop, John Deere married Demarius Lamb, with whom he fathered nine children. He initially went to Illinois alone, and sent for his wife and then five children about a year later.

During his later life, he shifted his focus to civil and political affairs, and was elected as Mayor of Moline, even though he refused to run for a second term due to health issues. He also served as the president of the National Bank of Moline and was the director of the Moline Free Public Library, apart from being a trustee of the First Congregational Church. After his wife died in 1865, he married her sister, Lucinda Lamb, in June 1867.

He died on May 17, 1886, at his home in Moline and is buried in Riverside Cemetery, Moline.

Trivia

John Deere’s special steel plow became known as ‘The Plow that Broke the Plains’, which is mentioned on a historic place marker in Middlebury, Vermont, where he learned the blacksmith trade.

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