No citizen of Rock Island County is, probably, more widely known than John Deere, of Moline . He was born at Rutland, Vt, Feb. 7th, 1804. The following year the family moved to Middlebury, Vt., where the children attended school in a small district school- house, which had a long fire-place across one 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 schools 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 had few equals and not man} superiors. Becom ing tired of the school-room, 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 intimation the mother had of John's doings.
At the age of 17, he became an apprentice to Capt. 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 & Ira Allen, to 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 blacksmith.
In 1827, Mr. Deere went to Vergennes, Vt., and entered into partnership with John McVene, to do general blacksmithing. Jan. 28th, 1827, he was married to Demarius Lamb, who became his faithful companion and helper for thirty-eight years. A change was made, in 1829, to Leicester, Vt., where a shop, 25x35 feet, was built, which was destroyed, six months after, by fire. It was rebuilt, only to be again burned. A third one was built, in which business was carried on till 1831, when the family moved to Hancock, Vt., where Mr. Deere followed his trade, adding to his general work the business of making forks and hoes.
Energy and diligence were bringing in sure, though small, returns; but the rumors of larger openings and richer rewards in the Great West, induced Mr. Deere to sell out his business, leave his family at Hancock, and come to Chicago. The town was small, unpromising, and planted in a swamp. Strong inducements were urged that he should remain and shoe horses, and repair coaches, but he rejected them, and came to Grand De Tour, on Rock River .
Here a shop was opened, and to the general work was added the building of breaking-plows. Mr. Deere soon began to see that the 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 the good plow must be made; The first one which did satisfactory work was made in this way:—wrought- iron land-side and standard steel share and mold-board cut from a saw mill 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.
This year Mr Deere built a dwelling house, 18 x24 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 the ague, work was still pushed, and, in 1839, ten plows were built, the entire iron work of a new Saw and Flouring Mill done, with no help except an inexperienced man as blower and striker. In 1840, a second anvil was put in the shop, a workman employed, and forty plows made. The following year seventy-five plows were built, the trade extending 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 grindstone, 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 proper dimensions and quality was a great obstacle. Finally Mr. Deere wrote to Bailor & Co., of New York, hardware dealers, explaining the demand of the growing agricultural States of the West, for a good cast steel plow, and stating the size, thickness and quality of 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 his location was not advantageous for a growing business. Coal, iron and steel must be handled by teams from La Salle, a distance of forty miles, and plows taken long distances to markets in the same slow and expensive way.
He therefore sold his interest 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 K. M. Tate and John M. Gould; shops built, and work com menced, 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 the 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, and the business was conducted under the name of Deere & Co. till 1868, when it assumed such proportions that it was incorporated under the general law of the State, with John Deere as President. With slight reverses, occasioned by hard times and bad debts, the business has had a steady and marvelous growth, requiring the annual addition of shop room, men and machinery, the last year having seen a greater enlargement than any previous year. The shops proper now occupy three sides of a space 300 feet square. Besides these there are a foundry, 150x65 feet, a pattern building and co"re shop, 100x50, and lumber sheds covering a space 150x 200 feet The product for 1876 was about 75,000 plows, the sale of which amounted to one and a quarter million dollars ($1,250-000). 1,800 tons of-wrought iron, 900 tons of steel, 700 tons of pig iron, 1,500,000 feet of hard-wood lumber were used, with other material in proportion, and 600 men were employed.
This business is John Deere's monument on the business side of life. It is the result of quick foresight, practical energy, great executive ability, and an almost resistless will, which are the marked characteristics of the man. It is generally conceded that he is the originator of the steel plow. There was then not only no steel plows in America, but no steel man- ufactured to make them up. The influence of this improvement in plows can not easily be estimated. The name of John Deere is a familiar one throughout the West, and his plows are sent to China, Japan and Australia. They have been awarded medals at almost numberless County, State and National Exhibitions in this Country, and were rewarded in the same way at the Vienna Exposition of 1873. The principal upon which the business has been conducted was well expressed by a gentleman long acquainted with the establishment, "Bound to make this plow better than the last," he .said, would be a good motto. All material is subjected to inspection, and no implements are permitted to go from the shops if known to be imperfect.
In personal appearance, Mr. Deere is large, well proportioned, strongly built, and has been blessed with strength capable of almost unlimited endurance. In his better days he would stand at his anvil from five in the morning till nine at night, building plows, shoeing horses, and ironing saw mills. His features are strong, and of lines of great power and endurance. His face is open, frank, and his address hearty, genial, bespeaking what he is, a man of tender, social nature, and noble character. His feelings are near the surface, and he is singularly sensitive to pathos whether it he that of sorrow or of joy. His sympathy and help quickly respond to the calls of trouble and misfortune, and he rejoices in the prosperity of all about him. Absorbed in business, he has not had the desire or time for office and public trusts, which have at times sought his service. He has, however, always been in sympathy with public interests, and given liberally of his means to advance them. He has been a Republican in politics since the organization of that party; is 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 have had in him a friend and patron. He is a large stockholder in the First National Bank of Moline, and was its second President. He has been once elected Mayor of the City, and is now one .of the directors of its Free Public Library. A generous hospitality is shown at his comfortable home, and few men are more entertaining in the social circle, or have a more Iriendly and happy faculty of making all feel at ease.
His domestic life has not been without its sorrow. His wife, who faithfully shared the hardships of life in a new country, and the bringing up of a large family of children, died Feb. 17th, 1865. In June, 1867, Mr. Deere was married to Lucinda Lamb, sister of liis former wife, who is still living. Of the nine children by the first marriage five are still living:— Charles H., one of the largest owners and proprietors of the present Deere Plow Works, and who has inherited the practical energy and ability to manage and enlarge the vast business . built on the foundations which his father laid; Jennette D., who married James Chapman, of New York; Ellen S., who married, and is now the widow of, C. C. Webber, of Rock Island ; Emma C., married to S. H. Velie, one of the proprietors of the Plow Works ; Alice M., married to M. Y. Cady, of Chicago. Mr. Deere is still active and strong, and many years yet may he live to enjoy his success, and the friendships he has made, to do good, and then have the immortality that conies to those who have "well done" in a higher than material sense.
Biographical Directory of Moline
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