Building the John Deere Wagon Works

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An early John Deere wagon.

John Deere’s involvement in wood wagon manufacture can be traced to 1881, when the company established a partnership (Deere, Wells and Co.) with a Council Bluffs, Iowa, wagon manufacturer. At the turn of the last century, John Deere built buggies in a partnership with the Webber Co. before establishing its own carriage company, the Reliance Buggy Co. John Deere Reliance buggies and wagons were built until 1923.

Deere & Co. quickly established itself as a market leader in wagon manufacture, acquiring highly regarded, established suppliers. Acquisition of Fort Smith (Ark.) Wagon Co., Davenport (Iowa) Wagon Co. and the Moline (Ill.) Wagon Co. in 1910-11 created a new platform: the John Deere Wagon Works.

Davenport Wagon Co., established in 1904, held a unique niche in the market: production of steel wagons. Launched by partners Nathaniel French, G. Watson French and J.L. Hecht, the company boasted a “one-horse-lighter” draft, claiming its wagons’ wheels turned more easily on roller bearings than on the cast iron or steel skeins used in wood wagons.

Moline Wagon Co. was formed in 1869 by business partners James First, Morris Rosenfield and Charles Benser. A wheelwright by trade, First started repairing wagons in the early 1850s (and worked briefly in John Deere’s blacksmith shop). First sold his interest in the firm in 1870. In 1881, Rosenfield (then company president and chief executive officer) began distributing wagons through Deere & Co.

Fort Smith Wagon Co., a subsidiary of South Bend (Ind.) Wagon Co., began building wagons in Arkansas in 1904 and almost immediately found a ready customer in Deere & Co. In 1910, Deere became sole owner of the company. Production continued in Arkansas until 1925, when Deere moved the operation to Moline, Ill.

During the first World War, John Deere Wagon Works prospered, filling military wagon orders. Between World War I and World War II, wagon sales fluctuated with the farm economy. By the mid-1940s, though, farmers were looking for steel wagons with rubber tires. Wood wagon production at John Deere ended in 1947.

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