Deere and Company in the Great Depression


We hear a lot about economic depression, lay-offs, business failures and bank closings every time we turn on the TV or open a newspaper, and we’ve all read a lot about "Robber Barons" and the greed of big business during the first part of the last century. However, I wonder how many corporations today would do what the leaders of Deere and Company did back in the early days of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Deere had total sales of $63 million in 1930, a figure that fell to just $8.7 million by 1932. In 1931, employment was cut by 75 percent, from 4,800 workers to 1,270, and these few survivors were working reduced hours, often at "make work" jobs. Wages at the Plow Works were cut from $0.57 to $0.53 per hour in 1931. Salaried employees’ pay was cut by 5 to 10 percent, and by 25 percent a year later. Minimum pensions were reduced from $30 to $25 per month. Paid vacations were eliminated during the years 1931 to 1936.

Deere did not, however, cut out everything. Employee savings accounts, upon which the company paid 5 percent interest, had been established in 1920, and this money was made available to laid-off employees to tide them over. In addition, company-paid group insurance was continued for laid-off workers, and the firm made an effort to help needy employees with cash payments.

Another example of Deere & Company's concern for the welfare of its employees and the City of Moline was the impending failure of the Peoples Savings Bank of Moline during the early days of the Great Depression.

The roots of the bank went back to 1857, and John Deere had served as president of the then First National Bank of Moline during 1866. In 1891, Charles Deere organized the Peoples Savings Bank of Moline, with Charles himself as president. In 1905, the two banks merged and, when Charles Deere died, William Butterworth became president of both Deere and the bank.

Thus, the Peoples Bank of Moline had always been considered the Deere family's bank and many Deere employees had their money in the institution. In addition, Deere and Company had consistently kept more than $2 million on deposit in the bank.


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