Charles H. Deere
The American plow and the name of Deere are synonymous in the public
mind. Neither widespread commercialism inspired by the plow nor its
constant development toward perfection by other hands and minds has
effaced the intimacy between the inventor and his invention. There is no
such close sympathy between Fulton and the steamboat, Morse and the
telegraph or others among the pioneers of practical ideas. The living
force of most inventors has been in the ideas they have given to the
world, but the perfection of these ideas has been carried forward by
others. The living force of the Deere invention is the Deere plow and the
Deere industry and the faithful association of the inventor with every
phase of the development of his invention. The Deere plow was the product
of the genius of John Deere, the father; the Deere industry was the
triumph of business acumen akin to talent of Charles Henry Deere, the son.
The Deere plow and the Deere industry have ever been foremost in setting a
standard for agriculture and manufacture, both in perfection of the
implement and the magnitude of the industry. Seldom has history brought
into such close relation such a remarkable combination of practical genius
and business capacity in father and son. They were true pioneers of
American products in the markets of the world and they made the name of
Deere a house hold term in every nation of the globe.
Charles H. Deere was a typical American in a day and age conspicuous for
individual achievement. The times called for men to develop the natural
resources of the young undeveloped nation. Men consecrated their lives to
organizing vast industrial activities. Charles Deere was representative of
the highest type of these producers of the enormous wealth of the nation.
His life was consecrated to exploiting the utility of that which his
father had created. The plow not only became the most potent forerunner of
civilization, but the originator of the commercial wealth of the nation.
As a boy, when his mind was forming, Charles Deere caught the
all-absorbing enthusiasm and zeal of the father. He was John Deere's
companion in driving about the country in the vicinity of Grand Detour,
Illinois, to test the primitive plows the father had built for the
pioneers. He held the plow and followed the furrow and caught the first
faint realization of the scope of agriculture as a national resource and
of the business of farming.
||Charles Deere was brought a babe
in arms by his mother in 1838 from the family home in Hancock,
Addison County, Vermont, where Charles was born March 28, 1837.
John Deere had preceded the family
by several months to the west. In the simple home at Grand Detour,
now a somewhat deserted village near Dixon, Illinois, the son tasted
the privations of the pioneer, lived the humble life of the settler,
mingled with the Indians and was given the meager advantages of the
country school. He was brought a boy of eleven, to the new home in
Moline when John Deere, in 1848, was prompted to move from Grand
Detour by reason of the natural advantages of coal, water power and
transportation for his modest industry. His common school education
was continued in Moline and he attended commercial schools at
Davenport and Galesburg, finishing his education at Bell's
commercial school in Chicago.
When he first became identified with the Deere Plow Works in 1853, the
son was put at bookkeeping. His marked ability at mastering detail brought
him more intimately into the industry and he turned to salesman. He became
proficient in every phase of plow-making and demonstrating, even as a boy
in actual apprenticeship as an artisan. Driving horses was a natural
talent, and he became the company's most expert representative in handling
the walking plow, being especially successful in introducing it into new
territory. In later years he never swerved from his devotion to his first
love-the walking plow -and even to the last year of his life Mr. Deere's
greatest delight was to spend often as much as a half day in the
experimental field holding a walking plow to the furrow. Building a
factory in those days before the war was a slow and laborious process with
no banks and no railroads. The Deere plows were left with the merchant on
commission and were delivered by wagon after trips often several hundred
miles long. Collections were made on subsequent trips, the dealer
receiving a dollar as commission on each sale. The panic of 1857 caught
the Deere industry in the midst of an outlay for additions, and the burden
of the storm rested heavily on the struggling concern. Pluck and
determination carried it through, and every creditor was paid in full.
At the outbreak of the civil war the company's selling force consisted of
George W. Vinton, Alvah Mansur and Charles Deere. The younger Deere's
adventurous spirit prompted him to follow a regiment organized in Moline
as far as Palmyra, Missouri, but his military ardor was cooled after a
week spent in camp and his unsuccessful effort to be mustered in. He was
one of the active young men of the town thereafter in securing and forming
new regiments of volunteers for service. He was inspired by a warm
patriot-ism, and in 1898 contributed with liberal hand to the support of
those left behind by the volunteers of the Spanish-American war.
Charles Deere became a partner with his father and his brother-in-law in
the Deere factory in 1858. Ten years later-in 1868-the corporation of
Deere and Company was formed and Charles Deere became vice-president and
general manager. The practical worth of the Deere plow had been
demonstrated. The manufacture of the young industry had reached an annual
output of 100,000 plows. The problem before father and son was to organize
to meet the great market before them. There came to the son-now a mature
business man-the awakening to the responsibility before him, and
thenceforth his life was consecrated to the great work given him to
perform. During the eighteen years that intervened between the
organization of the corporation and the death of John Deere in 1886, the
individuality of the son became more and more the individuality of the
concern. He became president of Deere and Company and all auxiliaries at
his father's death.
His work ever beckoned him on. He could scarcely have dreamed of the
ultimate fruit of his talent, but his success lay in building his industry
with such a master touch that it was ever prepared to respond to the
quickening influence of a larger market. From selling directly to the
dealer, a system of branch stores-which later became branch houses-grew
under his direction, till at the time of his death any one of the fifteen
or more at Omaha, St. Louis, Minneapolis. Kansas City, Winnipeg, San
Francisco and other centers represented a volume of business worthy of the
undivided attention of a business genius. He and his father originated the
policy of making each branch house the center of a diversified line of
farm implements, thereby bringing the name of Deere more intimately into
every phase of the business of farming. His great structure comprehended
the entire field of agriculture. The Deere and Mansur Company was started
in 1877 to manufacture corn planters. The John Deere Buggy Company of St.
Louis, the Fort Smith Wagon Company, the Velie Saddlery Company, the Union
Malleable Iron Company all became cogs in the almost perfect business
machine which he constructed. Mr. Deere was a profound believer in the
future of his country; he displayed rare fore-sight in forecasting the
possibilities of its resources and he organized his industry to develop
them. At the close of the nineteenth century he caught the first glow of
the golden age in American manufacturing and he set about to rebuild his
plow factory to meet it. At the time of his death he had only just
completed this reconstruction. Death allowed him no time in which to
journey along to old age in moderate retirement. His three score years and
ten were meted out to him almost to a day.
There was nothing hap-hazard about the success of the Deere industry. Its
implements were built for the specific work they were to perform. The
temper of the iron, climatic conditions, the needs of the agriculturist
were met before the implement was sent from the factory. A healthful
invigorating life permeated every detail. Every-thing which bore the name
of Deere represented real value conservatively estimated.
|Under the direction of such a master mind it was
but natural that a distinctively Deere sentiment should sway the
industry. Did Mr. Deere specialize it was in his judgment of men
and his mastery of detail. He possessed an insight akin to
instinct in the selection of men of large calibre as his aides in
working out his great structure. They carried on down through
their departments a spirit of personal responsibility and
consequence and pride in doing one's best. "Deere stands by his
men" came to be a sentiment that established a mutual bond of
sympathy, inspiring wonderful loyalty to the name of Deere. The
fundamental principle was to provide the best and the public would
be quick to appreciate.
The honor due his father as inventor of the plow was respected with
uncommon reverence and devotion. Every branch house but two bore the
name of John Deere. 'The bust of John Deere was the distinguishing
characteristic of the advertising of the parent plant and its immediate
auxiliaries. Was he swayed by pride, it was in the name of Deere and in
the father whose genius had given the name. such immortal luster.
Personal glory over his achievement was utterly foreign to his nature.
The scope of his life work made Mr. Deere of necessity a man of large
public usefulness. It drew him into the very vortex of the industrial
and political life of the nation. The individuality of his concern in
large measure became the individuality of the community in which he
lived. Deere and Company, the Deere and Mansur Company, and the Union
Malleable Iron Company-his trinity of industries-gave employment to
3,500 men during the latter years of his life. His capital at one time
or another was invested in practically every manufactory in . Moline. He
recognized the strategic advantage of the locality as a manufacturing
center and substantiated his faith in its future by liberal investment
in every phase of the business life of the city, notably erecting many
of its most substantial structures aside from its factories. He
popularized Moline by the success of his own enterprises and became its
leader and financial power in establishing its commercial solidity. His
capital was identified with the People's Power Company, the Moline Water
Power Company, and the street car lines, public utilities that have had
potent influence in the growth of the community. His personal influence
was conspicuous toward making Rock Island Arsenal the chief workshop of
the government and toward making the Mississippi River and the Hennepin
Canal practical highways of commerce. He was the first to be sought when
a new enterprise was projected and its fate many times rested on his
attitude toward it. His first question was of the men to be identified
with it. Outside of Moline his investments aside from his factories were
in every known avenue of public enterprise.
There is no estimating the scope of Mr. Deere's contribution to the
material prosperity and progress of the world. His factories and allied
industries, his distributing branches, gave employment to thousands and
furnished means of livelihood to other thousands, to say nothing of the
countless thousands who have profited through the utility of the Deere
plow and allied implements. The volume of business of his great business
structure in the year of his death is estimated to have been
$25,000,000. Such usefulness to humanity is not generally dignified with
the name of philanthropy, but men who have been such factors in
providing the opportunity to others to help themselves must be real
philanthropists in a large appreciation of the term.
His closest friends scarcely realized the extent of his national
prominence and influence. A sincere republican, he was a factor in the
highest councils of his party. He stood consistently for those policies
which would build up the nation. He was a counselor of statesmen, for
had he not intimate knowledge of the farm and factory, the warn-earner
of national resources, all of them the most serious considerations of
the lawmaker: He was accorded appointments of honor as national
convention delegate, national elector in the Benjamin Harrison
campaigns, president of the state board of labor statistics under
Governors Ogelsby and Cullom, trustee of DeKalb Normal School,
commissioner to the Vienna Exposition in 1873 and to the World's
Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago. But only once did he take up
public work for personal reasons, and that in the interest of the
development of deep waterways, a cause which lay close to the heart of
one with such large conception of the world's wealth. He was appointed
by Governor Deneen in 1907 to be commissioner of the Illinois and
Michigan canal in appreciation of his influence in promoting the
question of national waterways before congress and of drawing attention
to the water-ways of Illinois.
This strong silent man, who abounded in action and in splendid
achievement was supremely indifferent to personal prominence or power. A
man of the world in its largest sense, he was swayed by the simplest
tastes. He found his recreation and delight in things which money cannot
buy-in his home, in the woods and hills and water, in flowers, in the
progress of the crops, in reverencing the memories of the sturdy
pioneers, especially of the middle west. Did he have a weakness it was
for fine horses. He was a plain man of the people wherever he went,
democratic in nature, dignified, reserved-a gentleman of the old school,
courtly considerate, deferential, who shunned ostentation to the degree
of abhorrence. His benevolences were wholly impersonal, offhand, from
the pocket, his identity often being completely hidden. He was quickly
responsive to children and he would strike up a sort of quiet good
fellow-ship with them as he passed them from day to day along the
street. He gave most liberally to encourage talent and ambition of
children in limited circumstances, and when once his sympathies were
enlisted he never forgot. He idolized his own grand-children.
Mr. Deere was married September 16, 1862, to Mary L. Dickinson of
Chicago. To them were born two children: Anna C. Deere, August 20, 1864,
who became the wife of William Dwight Wiman and who died June 1, 1906,
in Santa Barbara, California; Katharine M. Deere, born in October, 1866,
wife of William Butterworth. Mr. Deere died October 29, 1907.
Source: Biographical History of Rock Island County's
Early Settlers and Leading Business Men.
The above biography is held at
Access Genealogy. Permission
has been granted to republish here.
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