Flying Dutchman Line from Moline Plow

From sulky plows to corn planters, the Moline Plow Co. line of products was a hit in the marketplace.

| July 2014

In maritime tradition, the Flying Dutchman is a notorious ghost vessel, doomed to sail the seas forever. In the world of antique farm equipment, however, Moline Plow Co.’s Flying Dutchman line of products enjoyed fame from coast to coast before being rendered obsolete by the march of progress.

Moline Plow Co. traces its roots to the 1850s, when Henry W. Candee, Robert K. Swan and several others formed a partnership — Candee, Swan & Co. — in Moline, Ill., to build and sell fanning mills and hay racks. Soon after, Andrew Friburg — formerly a shop foreman at John Deere — joined the partnership and the fledgling company began to manufacture plows.

Stillman W. Wheelock, owner of Moline Paper Mill, joined the firm as a partner in 1868, contributing $75,000 of capital. By then building what it promoted as the “Moline plow,” the company was renamed Moline Plow Co. and incorporated in 1870 with capitalization of $400,000.

That name, and the company’s efforts to represent itself in ways strikingly similar to those employed by John Deere, had already prompted legal action. John Deere filed suit for trademark infringement in 1867. Deere, until then the only manufacturer building plows in Moline, called its product “the Moline Plow.” When Candee, Swan & Co. changed its name to Moline Plow Co., and adopted a logo very similar in appearance to that used by John Deere, the latter sued. The Illinois Supreme Court eventually ruled (in 1871) against Deere’s claim of infringement, and Moline Plow Co. was free to proceed under its new moniker.

Marketplace innovation

Moline Plow released its Flying Dutchman sulky plow in 1884. The name, speculates author C.H. Wendel in American Farm Implements & Antiques, may have been intended to sound a familiar note among Midwestern farmers, many of whom immigrated to the U.S. from Germany and northern Europe.

Whatever the intention, the Flying Dutchman eventually led to new designs in sulky plows all over the world. The new product changed the concept of a sulky plow from one with two wheels to one with three wheels. It also transformed Moline Plow into a leading manufacturer of farm equipment.