William Deering Impresses at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition

William Deering & Co. made quite a splash at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

| May 2013

In 1890, the U.S. Congress selected Chicago over New York City, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., as the site for the World’s Columbian Exposition, a world’s fair celebrating the 400th anniversary of the landing of Columbus in the New World. The event was designed to showcase the art and technology of the world at the time — and Chicago farm implement manufacturer William Deering made sure his company was at the center of the action.

The world’s standard

William Deering was born in Maine in 1826. As a youth, he worked for his father in the woolen industry. By 1865 he’d made a fortune selling woolen goods (including uniforms for the Union Army) and as a land speculator. In 1870, Deering moved in a different direction, loaning E.H. Gammon $40,000 (about $701,800 today) to build the horse-drawn Marsh grain harvester. Three years later, when Gammon’s health failed, Deering moved to Illinois to manage the company. With the massive western expansion of American agriculture in the 1870s, sales soared.

Deering continued to improve the harvester, experimenting with an automatic wire-tie attachment. By 1879, he had incorporated the Appleby twine binder attachment. With that improvement, William Deering & Co. set the standard for the world in binders.

In the 1880s, building on the success of the twine binder, Deering moved ahead of most manufacturers in production of agricultural equipment. In 1879, Deering Harvester Works’ annual output was 3,000 binders; by 1890, 1,200 machines of various types were produced every day by 9,000 employees in the company’s Chicago plant.

A silvery shine

The Deering exhibit was a standout attraction among agricultural displays at the Columbian Exposition of 1893. Reflecting both his company’s position as an industry leader and as one of Chicago’s top employers, Deering clearly determined to cut a wide swath at the Chicago world’s fair. “The Deering exhibit covers 2,000 square feet and includes a dazzling display of light-running frictionless roller- and ball-bearing twine-binders, mowers and reapers, all finished in burnished silver and gold plate,” gushed an account in Rand, McNally & Co.’s A Week at the Fair, published in 1893.

As part of the Deering exhibit, the company produced a unique premium for fair goers. Measuring 3-1/2 inches in diameter, the round, 14-page booklet sported silver-colored covers, perhaps intended to coordinate with Deering’s gleaming display of equipment. Printed on both sides of each page were photos and information on Deering agricultural implements. Fastened by a single rivet, the pages fanned out when opened.