Tractor Town: Waterloo’s Role in the Development of the Farm Tractor, From “Waterloo Boy” to John Deere 1895-1954, by Jan Olive Full
Five out of five stars
There were many dramatic changes in American society that were a consequence of the applications of the internal combustion engine, none were more significant than in agriculture. Before tractors became widely used, at the height of their use, there were over 25 million horses and mules on farms in 1920 and approximately ten percent of the land was reserved for the growing of food for them. My grandfather used them until he was forced to give up farming, he was one of the last in this area to use horsepower.
Most of the farmhands were drafted into the military in World War II, so the government strongly encouraged the use of tractors, the curves of the amount of horsepower used versus the amount of tractor power crossed in 1945. At that time the slopes of both curves were extremely steep. In 1895, approximately thirty percent of the working population was in agriculture, by 1954 it was around five percent. In 1895, there were many auxiliary industries such as buggies, whips, horse collars, curry combs and other paraphernalia associated with hitching horses to equipment.
Many of those vanished jobs reappeared in the tractor production industry and one of the biggest players was the John Deere company. Makers of the iconic green machines, Deere is a company that grew up in Waterloo, Iowa. From a small company started from scratch in the economic and technical senses, at one time they were a major employer in Northeast Iowa, with sprawling production complexes. It was common knowledge during this time that a talented man in the area could quit high school and get a job at Deere.
This is the story of that company, how it was started, how it grew into a powerhouse and then rapidly declined. Mimicking so much of the decline of manufacturing in the United States. Some of the consequences of the growth of the company are also covered, making it an interesting short history of a company and its role in the changing of society.