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Tama Co. Economic Development By Heath Kellogg

July 12, 2018
Northern-Sun Print
Two old men had been best friends for years...and they both live to their early 90’s, when one of them suddenly falls deathly ill. His friend comes to visit him on his deathbed, and they’re reminiscing about their long friendship, when the dying man’s friend asks, “Listen, when you die, do me a favor. I want to know if there’s baseball in heaven.” The dying man said, “We’ve been friends for years, this I’ll do for you.” And then he dies. A couple days later, his surviving friend is sleeping when he hears his friend’s voice. The voice says, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that there’s baseball in heaven.” “What’s the bad news?” “The bad news is that you’re pitching on Wednesday.” Johnathan was born in Rutland, Vermont, February 7, 1804. He spent his boyhood and young adulthood in Middlebury, Vermont, where he received a common school education and served a four-year apprenticeship learning the blacksmith’s trade. When Johnathan was 21 he began his career as a journeyman blacksmith and soon gained considerable fame for his careful workmanship and ingenuity. His highly polished hay forks and shovels were in great demand throughout western Vermont. But business conditions in Vermont became depressed in the mid-1830s, and the future looked gloomy for the ambitious young blacksmith. Many natives of Vermont emigrated to the West, and the tales of golden opportunity that filtered back to Vermont so stirred Johnathan’s enthusiasm that he decided to dispose of his business and join the pioneers. He left his wife and family, who were to join him later, and set out with a bundle of tools and a small amount of cash. After traveling many weeks by canal boat, lake boat, and stagecoach, he reached the village of Grand Detour, which had been settled by Leonard Andrus and others from his native Vermont. The need for a blacksmith was so great that two days after his arrival in 1836 he had built a forge and was busy serving the community. There was much to be done - shoeing horses and oxen, and repairing the plows and other equipment for the farmers. From them he learned of the serious problem they encountered in trying to farm the fertile soil of the Midwest. The cast-iron plows they had brought with them from the East were designed for the light, sandy New England soil. The rich Midwestern soil clung to the plow bottoms and every few steps it was necessary to scrape the soil from the plow. Plowing was a slow and laborious task. Many people were discouraged and were considering moving on, or heading back east. Johnathan studied the problem and became convinced that a plow with a highly polished and properly shaped moldboard and share ought to scour itself as it turned the furrow slice. He built a plow in 1837, using the steel from a broken saw blade, and successfully tested it on the farm of Lewis Crandall near Grand Detour. Johnathan’s plow design proved to be the answer that farmers needed. But his contribution far exceeded just the development of a successful plow. It was the practice of that day for blacksmiths to build tools on order for customers. But Johnathan went into the business of manufacturing plows before he had orders for them. He would produce a supply of plows and then take them to the country to be sold - an entirely new approach to manufacturing and selling in those early pioneer days, and one that quickly spread the word of Johnathan’s “self-polishers.” It took Johnathan 49 years before he incorporated his plow company and it wasn’t until 1918 (81 years later) when the company he started purchased the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company in Waterloo, Iowa, that tractors became an important part of the business. For the Johnathan who solved a problem with the plow was none other than . . . John Deere.



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