Joining Forces: Syracuse Chilled Plow Co. and Deere & Company

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A Syracuse walking gang plow of the vineyard style, from an article in the August 1891 issue of Farm Machinery magazine.
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The cover of the 1895 Syracuse Plow Co. catalog.
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A colorful Syracuse trade card from the 1890s.
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A Syracuse trade card showing the factory and some of the firm’s products.
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A circa-1912 penny postcard showing a view of the Syracuse Chilled Plow Works.

The board of directors of Deere & Co., under the leadership of President William Butterworth, met on Jan. 6, 1910, and decided, among other things, to: “Find and bring into the orbit of the company several other agricultural machinery manufacturers … which would then result in an organization closer to a ‘full line’ company.”

Among those other manufacturers was the Syracuse (N.Y.) Chilled Plow Co. Deere had been selling a chilled plow for several years, but it was an “exact imitation of the Oliver,” as S.H. Velie Sr. (John Deere’s son-in-law and senior manager of Deere & Co.) admitted, and it didn’t sell well. The chilled iron plows made by the Syracuse firm, however, were ideal for the loose, gravelly soil of the Eastern states and were quite popular. At the turn of the century, Syracuse was doing about $1.25 million worth of business per year and earning about 15 percent profit.

The history of the Syracuse Chilled Plow Co. goes way back. In 1620, the same year the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock, Robert Wiard was born in England. He married and, like so many of his countrymen looking for opportunity, came to the New World where he settled in Hartford County, Conn. He had a son and presumably farmed for a living, as most settlers did at the time.

Not much is known about the next two generations of the Wiard family, but they stayed put in Hartford County and, in 1769, Thomas Wiard was born. The record says he married in about 1796, was made a freeman in 1802, and in about 1805 moved to a farm near East Avon in Livingston County, N.Y.

Apparently Thomas Wiard was a tinkerer; he not only ran his farm but also found time to build wooden plows and experiment with cast iron construction. He fathered 12 children with two wives, and served as a justice of the peace and town supervisor.

Four of Thomas’ sons, William (born in 1798), Thomas (1805), Matthew (1813) and Henry (1815), became involved in manufacturing plows, and two very successful and well-known plow companies resulted. These plow companies were the Syracuse Chilled Plow Co. and the Wiard Plow Co., Batavia, N.Y. Since this story is about the Syracuse firm, we’ll forget about the other company for the time being.

The records are a little foggy on the details, but apparently Thomas’ third son, Matthew, developed a certain plow and sold a set of plow patterns to John S. Robinson, Canandaigua, N.Y., who seems to have moved to Syracuse where he established the Robinson Chilled Plow Co. in 1876. Another account says Harry Wiard, Thomas’ grandson, invented a process for chilling cast iron and that was the genesis of the Robinson firm. Although I can find no patents to back up the latter theory, it seems plausible, since Harry’s son, William Wolcott Wiard (who was born in 1865), was president of the Syracuse plow company when Deere bought the firm.

In any event, the Robinson company name was changed to the Syracuse Chilled Plow Co. in about 1879, and for the next three decades the firm enjoyed considerable success. By the turn of the century, Syracuse Chilled Plow Co. was manufacturing both steel and cast iron walking plows, with steel, iron and wooden beams, along with subsoil and contractor’s plows.

Also in the Syracuse lineup were walking gang plows, most of which were acquired when Syracuse bought the Rochester (N.Y.) Plow Co. in about 1890, as well as sulky and 2-way riding plows, shovel plows, spring tooth harrows, hand and riding cultivators, walk-behind road scrapers, and barn hay forks and carriers.

As mentioned earlier, Deere & Co. was looking to expand its line to include, among other implements, a good chilled plow. Apparently, William Wiard and another principal in the Syracuse company, C.A. Chase, were anxious to hook up with Deere.

George Mixter, John Deere’s great-grandson, had become superintendent of all Deere manufacturing. In 1910, he was given the responsibility of meeting with Syracuse Plow leadership to effect the merger. Mixter described the transaction as follows:

“I went to Syracuse, telephoned Mr. Chase from the hotel. Mr. Chase and Mr. Wiard immediately came to my room.” After a bit of discussion, Mixter “asked if they would care to be associated with Deere & Co.” The Syracuse men wasted no time in calling someone to bring the company books to the hotel and presented them to Mixter for his examination. Mixter was duly impressed by the information in the books, as well as by the character of Wiard and Chase. After more discussion, Chase and Wiard left the room to put their heads together and soon returned to state “in a general way what kind of a deal they were willing to make with Deere & Co.”

Armed with the Syracuse proposal, Mixter took the train back to Moline, where he reported to Deere’s Executive Committee, which approved the deal. Wasting no time, Mixter and a banker, T.F. Wharton, hurried back to Syracuse, arriving at noon on a Saturday.

Wharton spent Saturday afternoon and Sunday going over the Syracuse firm’s books, while Mixter spent the time making a physical appraisal of the property. At noon on Monday, Mixter and Wharton handed over a bank draft for $400,000 as a down payment and Deere & Co. was the new owner of the Syracuse Chilled Plow Co.

William Wiard and C.A. Chase each received $28,000 worth of Deere common stock, as well as payment for whatever amount of Syracuse stock they held. In addition, the two men remained as managers of the company.

So, the next time you look at a John Deere plow and see it has thick, cast iron moldboards with the name Syracuse Plow Co. cast into the back, you’ll know how it all came about. FC

Read about the chilling process for iron: “Chilling Process Made Cast Iron Adaptable.”
Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by e-mail at
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