No citizen in Rock Island County, or throughout the country, was probably more widely known than John Deere of Moline. He was born at Rutland, Vermont, February 7, 1804, and died May 17, 1886. 1805 the family moved to Middlebury, Vermont, where the children attended school in a district schoolhouse, which had a long fireplace across the end of the room. The reading, writing and little arithmetic obtained here, before he was twelve years old, was the principal educational start Mr. Deere had for life. He afterwards attended private school for a few months, but the inborn inclination for active practical work must assert itself, and the career began, which, for unconquerable energy, determined will, and self-made success, has few equals, if any superiors. Becoming tired of the schoolroom, he hired himself to a tanner to grind bark, and the pair of shoes and suit of clothes purchased with the wages were the first inclination the mother had of John's doings. At the age of seventeen he became an apprentice to Captain Benjamin Lawrence, and began learning the blacksmith trade. He faithfully worked out his engagement of four years, and was then employed in the shop of William Wells and Ira Allen, to construct iron wagons, buggies and stagecoaches. A year later he was in Burlington, and did the entire wrought iron work on the saw and linseed oil mill built at Colchester Falls. This indicates the mechanical ability of the young man; for it must be remembered that work which is now done by machinery, in those days must depend upon the skill and strength of the common black-smith. In 1827 Mr. Deere went to Vergennes, Vermont, and entered into partnership with John McVene, to do general blacksmithing. January 28, 1827, he was married to Demarius Lamb, who became his faithful companion and helper for thirty-eight years.
Mr. Deere soon began to see that his iron plow with wooden mold-board
could not be made to do good work in the prairie soil; with difficulty
they entered the ground, clogged up and failed to scour. Then began the
experiments and improvements which finally resulted in the present perfect
steel plow. With characteristic energy and will, the battle was pushed
till success came. There was a demand for a good plow, and such a plow
must be made. The first one which did satisfactory work was made in this
way: Wrought-iron landslide and standard steel share and moldboard cut
from a sawmill saw, and beam and handles of white oak rails. In 1838 two
of these plows were made, with which the farmers were much pleased, and
did unusually good work for those days. That year Mr. Deere built a
dwelling house, eighteen by twenty-four feet, and brought his wife and
five children from the East. It was not a few hours ride in a moving
parlor, but a weary journey of six weeks by stage, canal and lumber wagon.
Settled in his little home, and often shaking with ague, work was still
pushed, and in 1839, ten plows were built, the entire iron work of a new
saw and flouring mill being done, with no help except an experienced man
as blower and striker. In 1840 a second anvil was put in the shop, and a
workman employed, and forty plows made. The following year seventy-five
plows were built, and trade extended many miles in all directions. In 1842
one hundred plows were made. The following year a partnership .was formed
with Major Andrews, a brick shop two stories high built, a horse power put
in to turn a grind stone, a small foundry established, and four hundred
plows made. Steadily and rapidly the business grew till in 1846 the
product was one thousand plows. The difficulty of obtaining steel of the
proper dimensions and quality was a great obstacle. Finally Mr. Deere
wrote to Nailor & Company, of New York, hardware dealers, explaining the
demand of the growing agricultural states of the West, for a good steel
plow, and stating the size, thickness and quality of the steel plates he
wanted. The reply was that no such steel could be had, but they would send
to England and have rollers made for the purpose. An order was sent, the
steel cast in England, and shipped to Illinois. Not only was this instance
of enterprise and determination shown, but the practical foresight of Mr.
Deere saw that this location was not advantageous for a growing business.
Coal, iron and steel must be handled by teams from LaSalle, a distance of
forty miles, and plows taken long distances to market, in the same slow
and expensive way. He therefore sold his interests to Mr. Andrews and came
to Moline, in 1847. Here was good water power, coal in abundance, within
three to five miles, and cheap river navigation. A partnership was formed
with Mr. R. M. Tate and John M. Gould; shops built and work commenced,
resulting the first year in seven hundred plows. About this time the first
shipment of steel from England came to hand. Fifty plows were made and
sent to different parts of the country where the soil was most difficult
to work. They proved successful, the trade enlarged, new machinery was
added, the shops enlarged, till the annual production was ten thousand
plows. Mr. Deere then bought out the company. In 1858 Mr. Deere took his
son, Charles H., into the business as partner (see
biography of C. H..
Deere), and the business was conducted under the name of Deere & Company
till 1868, when it was incorporated under the general law of the State,
with John Deer as president.
His sympathy and help quickly responded to the calls of trouble and
misfortune, and he rejoiced in the prosperity of all about him. Absorbed
in business, he did not have the desire nor time for office and public
trusts, which at time sought his service. He was, however, always in
sympathy with public interests, and gave liberally of his means to
advance them. He was a Republican in politics since the organization of
that party. He was an active member of the Congregational Church, and a
generous contributor to local and foreign objects of benevolence. The
religious, moral and educational interests of society had in him a
friend and patron. He was a large stockholder in the First National Bank
of Moline, and was its second President. He was once elected Mayor of
the City, and was also one of the directors of the free public library.
Source: Biographical History of Rock Island County's Early Settlers and Leading Business Men.
The above biography is held at Access Genealogy. Permission has been granted to republish here.
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