Some John Deere History

John Deere traces its origins to the 1800s, John Froelich and William Mann


| March/April 1953



Waterloo Tractor

Waterloo Boy tractor as exhibited at the Mt. Pleasant Reunion. It was in good running order. It portrayed history and development.

Intrigued by the replica of the Froelich first tractor exhibited at the Mt. Pleasant Reunion in 1952, we are here giving some history as started by Mr. Froelich in 1892. This is copied from some literature of Deere and Company with their permission. — Ed.

John Froelich was born November 24, 1849, in Giard, Iowa.

But he was living in nearby Froelich (named for his father) when he began wondering if he couldn’t build a more useful traction engine than the steam engines then in use.

He knew about steam engines from experience. They were heavy and bulky, hard to maneuver. They were always threatening to set fire to the grain and stubble in which they worked, and on flat prairie, with wind blowing, that was no joke. Froelich believed that he could build a gasoline traction engine — or tractor — that would remove all these drawbacks to mechanical power.

The first tractor

Likely you’d smile if you could see his first attempt. It was a sort of hybrid vertical, one cylinder (14-inch stroke and bore) engine mounted on the running gear of a steam traction engine.

The two halves didn’t fit together too well. In fact, in most respects, they didn’t fit at all, and Froelich and his helper, William Mann, had to design many new parts. It took time to figure everything out. But the day came when the hybrid was assembled and ready for trial.

Froelich tugged at the massive flywheel. The machine wouldn’t start.

No matter how hard Froelich and Mann yanked on that flywheel, the machine simply wouldn't start, and somewhere, among the spectators, there was a snickered “I told you so!”

That did it

Then Mann had an idea.

He twisted the bullet from a rifle cartridge, wedged the cartridge in the primer and hit it with a hammer.

With a cough and a roar, the one-lunger came to life. The flywheel began to spin ... horses reared and tried to pull loose from a nearby hitching rail. “I knew old John'd do it!” shouted the onlooker who, a moment before, had started to scoff.