John Deere is one of the preeminent names in tractors today, but it wasn't always that way. In fact, the John Deere company operated for over 50 years before the gas powered tractor was even invented. So, what did the John Deere company make before tractors?
John Deere, a blacksmith from Vermont, founded the company that would bear his name in 1836 when he moved to Grand Detour, Illinois. He initially set up shop working in his trade, serving as a general repairman in town and making small tools like pitchforks and shovels.
In the 1840s, Deere expanded his company and made horse drawn plows. By the end of the decade he expanded his business to Moline, Illinois and had a work force that could produce almost 2,500 plows a year.
The plows would remain the company's main business through much of the 1850s. In 1858, a financial shuffle resulting from a nationwide economic downturn, resulted in Deere's son, Charles Deere, taking over the company, with John still serving as president.
In 1863, the company created the Hawkeye Riding Cultivator, a horse-drawn device equipped for a rider to guide the horses.
In the 1880s, steam powered tractors started catching on. Deere would make gang plows designed to be drawn by the tractors, but did not make any tractors themselves. In 1886, John Deere passed away at the age of 82.
After briefly making bicycles in the 1890s, the company's business was booming, with revenue exceeding $2 million annually by the turn of the century.
In 1907, Charles Deere passed away, leaving his son-in-law, William Butterworth, in charge of the company.
The modern John Deere Company emerged in 1912, when it became publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. During this time, the company experimented with tractors, but it wasn't until 1918, when it purchased the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company and their popular "Waterloo Boy" tractor line, that they began making tractors.
In 1923, Deere launched the Model D tractor, the first to bear the John Deere name.
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Here's what John Deere did before they made tractors.