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

Let's Talk Rusty Iron: To become a "full line" company, Deere & Co. turned to Syracuse Chilled Plow.

| May 2009

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.