Going Head to Head: Deere and International Harvester

Competition between Deere & Co. and International Harvester spurred unprecedented innovation in agricultural equipment.

| May 2020

The John Deere Waterloo Boy Model N tractor had a 2-speed transmission, and most had automotive-type steering. It was sold until 1924, when Deere’s Model D was launched. Photo courtesy Robert N. Pripps.

In the early days of power farming, the competition was between internal combustion and steam. Hart-Parr became the champion for the internal combustion, or “gas engine” tractors, but customers did not immediately beat the proverbial path. 

Steam competitors were roasting the gas tractor upstart and became so vociferous that customers began to get suspicious. Charles Hart is quoted as saying, “If it hadn’t been for the free publicity given by our friends, the enemy, I really don’t know if we should have pulled through.” 

It is a known fact in business that competition from “our friends, the enemy,” can either make a company stronger, or it can wipe it out. The competition between Deere & Co. and International Harvester was a fact of life throughout the 20th century. It was, in great part, the driver in providing the farmer with good equipment at a reasonable price.

An 1831 harvest scene showing the famed McCormick reaper. The horse-powered implement could cut about 8 acres a day. 

Fledgling company flexes its muscle

In the eyes of Deere & Co. leadership, International Harvester was an upstart when it was founded in 1902. After all, Deere had been in business almost 70 years by then. Further, as the name implied, International built harvesters, an outgrowth of McCormick’s original invention, while Deere was a plow-making company. Some Deere dealers sold both lines. In fact, both companies’ branch houses were also handling lines of wagons, haymaking implements, spreaders and planters.


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