John Deere seems to be a company that can do no wrong. From the founder's personal struggle with fire, insolvency, and The Great Depression, John Deere is a story of overcoming adversity and using perseverance to triumph.
The company that John Deere founded has had a remarkable history and enjoyed boundless growth to become a global powerhouse and the backbone of agricultural machinery. They enjoy net sales of $37 billion annually and have branched out to providing equipment to other industries, including mining and the military.
Remarkably, throughout its growth, John Deere has remained under the leadership of the Deere family, and the company has enjoyed five generations of Deere family leadership. This style of management has found its way around the world, influencing several other large agricultural companies and corporations which are, more often than not, family run throughout generations.
As the company has grown, so to has the range of products that it manufactures. From starting out as a plow manufacturer, the company has branched out to diesel engines, tractors, bicycles, balers, seeding equipment, ATVs, bicycles, and more. Profits have been invested in further research and development while never straying far from their founder's vision of advancement through innovation.
As a result, John Deere is responsible for a number of products and technology that we use in our everyday life. Strap yourself in and get ready to take a ride through one of the world's most interesting (and oldest) companies.
20 John Deere Invented The Steel Plow
John Deere first showed his talent for innovation in agriculture when the then mid-west of the USA was being settled in 1837. Settlers from the East were finding that their wooden plows kept breaking due to the difference in the soil out West. Deere was convinced that good quality steel would solve this problem and made the first prototype out of a broken steel saw blade. Development of the steel plow was slow, however, because at the time, steel had to be shipped from Great Britain. Over the next 20 years, John Deere continued to refine his steel plow based on feedback and suggestions from his customers.
19 He Was A Terrible Blacksmith
As with most people, a young John Deere found a while to find his path to success. At the age of 17, he began an apprenticeship as a blacksmith before getting married at age 22 and opening his own metalsmith business in Vermont. His early career was a calamity and his first shop burnt to the ground. Refusing to accept defeat, he built a second shop, only to have that go up in flames as well. The third shop didn’t fare any better and he fled to Illinois to escape insolvency. Although he was not successful as a blacksmith, his trade had a major influence on his life and enabled him to develop innovations like the steel plow.
18 Nothing Pedals Like A Deere
Bicycle craze swept the USA in the late 1800s as the economic depression impacted the economy. An upside of this was that bicycle sales went through the roof because people were looking for cheaper methods of transportation coupled with the recent invention of the chain-driven bicycle, replacing the penny farthing. John Deere was at the forefront of the nation's bicycle boom and offered three models: the Deere Roadster, the Deere Leader, and the Moline Special. Deere bicycles originally sold for $50 and people bought them whether they could afford them or not. Today, one of these rare, wooden-wheel John Deere bicycles can fetch anywhere between $1,800 and $3,000.
17 These Colors Don’t Run
The John Deere name enjoys an incredibly loyal following amongst farmers worldwide. The reasons go far beyond the products they make. To many, John Deere is the ultimate example of the farming way of life, overcoming adversity, forcing innovation, and beating debt to achieve success. Like any iconic brand, people tend to get it tattooed on them. However, we were surprised to learn that the John Deere logo is the most tattooed logo in the world. Of course, people don’t just get the John Deere logo and the iconic tractor features heavily in tattoo designs, as well, with the company's green-and-yellow color combination being the most popular choice.
16 The World's Most Ethical Company
According to the Ethisphere Institute, John Deere has been nominated for 12 consecutive years as one of the world's leading ethical companies. The Ethisphere Institute uses five categories to rank a company, including innovation and reputation, corporate citizenship and responsibility, the company's culture of ethics, and more. According to John Deere chairman Sam Allen, integrity and transparency are both important core values at the company. John Deere is one of only a dozen companies to have been nominated as industry leaders in ethics and transparency each year the Institute has conducted their research. Only a handful of manufacturing companies make the list each year, placing John Deere in an elite group.
15 John Deere Refused To Repossess Farm Equipment During The Great Depression
The Great Depression marked the worst economic downtown in world history and 15 million citizens in the USA were unemployed. The agricultural sector was hit particularly hard thanks to a combination of drought and falling food prices. This, in turn, affected companies such as John Deere, whose business ground to a halt. They were forced to lay off factory workers and shorten roster hours but they did everything they could to support not only their employees but also farmers. For those who could not afford to make repayments on their equipment purchases, John Deere allowed them to keep the equipment. They also covered insurance payments for ex-employees and lowered rent on company housing.
14 John Deere Has Designed Almost 700 Different Tractors Since 1837
John Deere makes a variety of agricultural equipment but they are best known for their tractors. This venture began in 1918, when John Deere acquired the Waterloo Engine Company who, at the time, manufactured Waterloo Boy Tractors. These tractors had two-cylinder engines that were powered by kerosene. Sales declined as a growing trend preference for four-cylinder tractors emerged. Around this time, John Deere started to develop new models to get practical feedback from farmers, which was then used to further develop new tractors. It took nine years for John Deere's tractor division to become profitable but in the long term, their strategy paid off, with the company developing 690 different tractor models throughout its history.
13 Manufacturers Of Military Equipment
In 1999, John Deere bought out Navcom, a company that developed GPS positioning and wireless communications systems. One of the most important clients in their portfolio was the US military, who use Navcom's navigation system to assist with IED and mine clearance. The Navcom systems are favored for their high rate of dynamic output, without the need for external references. This ability makes the Navcom systems incredibly precise in any conditions. John Deere also makes jet fuel-capable engines for a variety of industrial and gen-set applications. Also in their lineup are a number of custom military-duty, all-terrain utility vehicles, in collaboration with International Automated Systems.
12 The Mayor Of Moline
Moline is quite a picturesque city nestled between the Mississippi River and Rock River in Illinois. It was first settled in 1720 by the Sauk and Meskwaki Indian tribes, who thought the area was perfect for fishing and farming. John Deere moved to the townsite in 1848, bringing his steel plow company with him. As he expanded his factories, Moline's population grew. In 1858, he transferred ownership of his company to his son Charles and took more of an active role in political activities. In 1873, he was elected as the second Mayor of Moline. During his time in office, he passed a liquor license ordinance and banished open drains from the city, instead ordering sewer pipes be installed to prevent disease.
11 The Evolution Of The Jumping Deer
As we’ve seen above, the John Deere jumping deer logo is iconic but, as the company has changed and evolved, so too has its logo. The original 1876 logo featured a picture of an African deer jumping over a log. The second version of the logo had improved definition and was changed to a North American deer. It included the slogan “the trade mark of quality made famous by good implements.” The third logo, in 1936, changed the artwork to a solid silhouette. The fourth version removed the slogan but was relatively unchanged. The next two versions were more streamlined and the version we see today was designed in 2000 and for the first time, the deer was pictured leaping upwards instead of landing.
10 The CEO Of John Deere Never Wanted The Company To Sell Tractors
After Charles Deere retired from being company president in 1907, his son-in-law, William Butterworth, took the reins. At that time, John Deere had a sum of $4.5 million in annual sales and Butterworth did not want to do anything to risk that. However the board of directors had other plans and in 1912, voted to start research and development on manufacturing their own tractor, called the Dain All-Wheel Drive. When they had the chance to acquire their competitor, Waterloo Boy, they wrote out a cheque for the amount of $2.25 million and continued selling tractors under the Waterloo Boy name.
9 John Deere Started Making Children's Toys Because Of WWII
During World War II, the production of toys had ceased because of rations on items used to produce military supplies, such as aluminum and steel. When the war ended and with the baby boom starting to have effect shortly after troops returned home, demand for children’s toys skyrocketed. In 1946, a man named Fred Ertl was laid off his foundry job and started working on a miniature replica tractor made out of aluminum. After struggling to keep his children from climbing on it all the time, he made a second version with rubber tires that could be pushed along. John Deere was so impressed with his work that they offered Ertl a deal to manufacture child-sized tractors which were resold under the Deere name.
8 John Deere's Father Mysteriously Disappeared
John Deere's family had somewhat of a dark history. His father, William Rinold Deere, migrated to the United States from Wales. During his travels, he met John's mother, Sarah Yates, who was born in Connecticut. A tailor by trade, William opened up a tailor shop in Middlebury in 1806, two years after the birth of his son, John. Although busy, having a large family meant that he was always under financial strain. In 1808, William received word that tragedy had struck his family in England and he would inherit a lot of money. That year, he set sail to the UK, hoping to settle his debts and collect enough money to make his new family comfortable. But he was never heard from again and was presumed lost at sea.
7 John Deere Fathered Nine Children
The 1800s was a very dangerous era to get pregnant and trends were very different, as well. At this time, women gave birth an average of seven times and 30 percent of women gave birth to ten or more children. Part of the reason was because of a lack of birth control, as well as a 28 percent infant mortality rate. Births were mostly given at home and attended by midwives. Expectant mothers would commonly work for as long as they could during their pregnancy, believing that performing manual labor would help prepare their bodies for birth. The Deere family was no different and John and his wife, Demarius, had nine children: three boys and six girls.
6 John Deere Hated Finance
Although John Deere was a very clever man, he openly hated anything to do with finance and accounting. A hatred towards finance had already cost him his tailor shop and caused him to flee the state and it almost sunk his new plow manufacturing business, as well. His son Charles started working at the John Deere company in 1854—when he was just 16—and John pushed him to graduate college, studying bookkeeping, commercial law, and business math. This suited John's desire to have somebody looking after the financial side of the company—specifically, somebody that could be trusted and who was better educated than himself. This freed John up to do what he excelled at, which was innovation and marketing.
5 John Deere Was Still Considered A Blacksmith For Seven Years After He Made His First Plow
The start of the John Deere plow business was moving at a snail's pace. By John's accounts, he sold one steel plow in 1837, two plows the next year, 10 plows in 1939, 40 plows in 1840, and 75 in 1941, until he eventually sold 100 plows the following year. It wasn’t until 1943 that he finally quit his blacksmithing business and registered his new company, Deere and Andrus. The plows weren’t an immediate success because the farmers in the area believed that any iron and steel that came into contact with the earth would damage the soil, making it impure.
4 The John Deere Diesel Engine Offered One Key Improvement
The diesel engine was invented in the 1890s but could only be operated at low speeds and was notoriously difficult to start, especially in cold weather. In 1949, John Deere started manufacturing their 51-horsepower Model R diesel motors. It was a significant advancement on the diesel engine because it was able to perform a live power take-off with its own clutch. The other improvement in the design was that they were able to be paired to a gasoline-fired starter engine. Prior to this, the flywheel had to be manually cranked in order to start the engine and it took the motor far longer to warm up.
3 John Deere Helped Pioneer Self-Driving Vehicles
Before Tesla made self-driving cars palatable, Google was doing the same thing. But before either of those companies, John Deere was already manufacturing the technology, having perfected self-driving tractors many years prior. The technology has been a game changer for farmers during harvest, which is typically their busiest time of year. Because there are lower risks and the tractors are operated on private land, these products were able to be bought to market in a shortened time frame. The systems work in a similar manner to self-driving cars, using satellite technology and GPS to guide the tractors automatically. The auto-steering features mean that row overlap is frequently less than an inch.
2 They Were The World's First Content Marketers
A little known fact is that, in 1895, John Deere created a magazine called The Furrow. It was marketed to farmers and featured practical information and articles focused on the interests of better farming. It was a free magazine that didn’t run advertisements. The only indication that John Deere had anything to do with the magazine was a small phrase on every cover that said: "with compliments of your John Deere dealer." The magazine's distribution rapidly grew and today, it is one of the longest running and most widely distributed magazines in print. This was the world's first exposure to content marketing and it had been wildly successful.
1 Despite Being Founded In 1837, The Company Has Only Had 9 CEOs
Since its inception, John Deere was always to stay a family-orientated company with a focus on innovation and quality. The company was founded in 1837, with John Deere being the first CEO. After he retired, he handed the company over to his son, Charles. Throughout the history of the company, most of the Presidents and CEOs have been Deere family members. John Deere recognized that a brand that focused on its customers and operated with a high level of integrity would receive unwavering customer loyalty in return. Having strong and decisive leadership has helped John Deere grow from servicing just one town to the global powerhouse that it is today.
Sources: Mental Floss, Deere, and DrivingLine.