Profiles in History: John Deere Innovation

About 175 years ago a blacksmith named John Deere discovered an innovative way to help the hardworking farmers that lived around him near his home in Grand Detour, Illinois. Deere, who produced the usual equipment necessary for prairie life like hayforks, horseshoes and more, was inspired by a broken steel sawmill blade.

John Deere Plow
John Deere Plow

Deere knew that one of the cumbersome aspects of farming on the prairie was the sticky soil which needed to be frequently cleaned off their cast-iron plows. According to amateur historian Thurston Shapell, who presented a series of profiles in the history or the prairie in an article he wrote, Deere also knew that the soil easily slid off of highly polished steel moldboards. But because steel was in short supply in the Illinois of the 19th century, Deere created a moldboard from the second-hand blade which would otherwise have been discarded.

Deere created a revolutionary plow which was able to speed up the farmer’s work considerably. But not only was the material innovative, so was the shape of the plow. After slowly increasing the manufacturing of the new plow, sales took off, and by 1849 (11 years after first having the idea) Deere was producing 2000 plows.

Today the John Deere company is one of the country’s key manufacturers of modern farming equipment, but it all began back in 1937 with a broken steel blade.