Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Distant Ringing of the Anvil

Everyone knows the name John Deere. The green and yellow tractors and farm implements are as much a part of the landscape as trees or cars. There's one in just about every other farmers barn.  And in thinking of Deere & Co. one automatically turns to Moline Illinois, along the Mississippi river and an industrial powerhouse.  But the story didn't Start there.

In the early 1800's farming in Illinois was arduous because of the rich prairie soil and the wooden or rough iron plows in use at the time had to be cleaned constantly.  In 1836 John Deere moved to the tiny village of Grand Detour and a year later set himself up as a blacksmith, a trade he was already skilled at. It was here that Deere came up with the self scouring plow.  Made of Scottish steel, the smooth sided plow solved the problem of the clinging soil and allowed a field to be plowed in a fraction of the time.

The practice at the time was to produce one item at a time for a specific customer but Deere came up with the innovation of  manufacturing several at a time, thus allowing prospective buyers to see them in use and to order one right away without the need to wait. It didn't take long for word to spread of Deere's invention and his business prospered.

In 1842 he entered into a partnership with Leonard Andrus and they purchased land along the Rock River and built a two story factory which produced about 100 plows the first year and approximately 400 the following year. The partnership dissolved in 1848 and Deere relocated to Moline to be closer to the Mississippi and the railroads.  And the rest, as they say, is History.

The site in Grand Detour is located on the same ground as the original blacksmith shop and forge. The original smithy is gone but a replica building was erected using the same dimensions as the original. And it is a Working forge which was fired up the day we were there to a group of farmers from Argentina who were being given a tour.  We all crowded into the shop and watched the blacksmith demonstrate his craft, making a finely detailed Eagles feather right before our eyes.

The historic site, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and later added to the National Historic Register in 1966, is open seasonally from May through October. There's a $5.00 admission fee to help defray upkeep and maintain the exhibits.  Also want to give my heartfelt thanks to Ms. Kristen Veto, the manager of the John Deere historic site for permission to publish this story.

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