10 Things you didn’t know about John Deere and his company:
- John Deere was raised by a single mother. His father, a tailor, took a sea voyage to England when John was 4 years old. He was never heard from again.
- Deere’s first blacksmithing venture was a flop. In 1836, faced with bankruptcy, Deere sold his shop to his father-in-law and headed west. He left behind his pregnant wife and four young children and promised to send for them.
- Deere traveled to the edge of the frontier (Grand Detour, IL) and immediately got to work. Within two days of arriving, he’d built a forge. As the only blacksmith within 40 miles, business boomed. He built a home and sent for his family soon after.
- Inspiration struck at a sawmill. Deere picked up a broken steel saw blade and started experimenting. He chiseled off the teeth, shaped the blade, and invented “The Plow that Broke the Plains.” Not bad for a day’s work!
- Deere’s second plow is on display at the Smithsonian Institution. Joseph Brieton, his first customer, held on to the plow for many years until it was re-discovered by John Deere’s son Charles.
- Broken sawmill blades make great prototypes, but bad parts. Finding a reliable source of high-quality polished steel was a big holdup for Deere. It took almost 10 years after his initial invention for him to find a reliable source of polished steel, holding back the early expansion efforts of his company.
- Deere moved with the train. Deere quickly realized that transportation (of raw materials in, and completed plows out) would be his biggest struggle. When the railway bypassed the village of Grand Detour, Deere broke away from his existing business partner and moved to Moline, IL – along the Mississippi river and a rail line. His production increased by 600% the following year.
- In 1859, Deere’s 70 employees produced 15,000 plows – all with hand tools and old-fashioned production equipment!
- John Deere was the mayor of Moline, IL for two years.
- Deere died at home in 1886, at 82 years old.
The Deere company didn’t die with its founder, though! Many members of the Deere family continued to lead the company – come back next week to read about the son-in-law that saved the Deere company.