The Rise and Fall of Moline Plow Co.

Sam Moore looks back on the birth, evolution and inevitable decline of the Moline Plow Co.

| October 2016

In about 1850, Alonzo Nourse had an agricultural warehouse at Main and Wells streets in Moline, Illinois. There he sold eastern-made revolving hay rakes and built fanning mills and a few other implements to order with the help of Henry W. Candee, and, a few years later, Robert K. Swan.

In 1854, Candee and Swan bought the place, giving birth to what was to become Moline Plow Co. At about the same time, a Swedish immigrant named Andrew Friberg came to Moline and went to work for John Deere building plows, soon becoming foreman of Deere’s blacksmith shop.

In 1864, Friberg developed lung problems and moved to the Rocky Mountains for his health. He returned a year later to work for Candee, Swan & Co., after which they began to build the Moline line of plows. This upset Deere, who had been using the Moline name for some of his plows (even the logo Candee, Swan & Co. used was similar to Deere’s) and he sued. The court battle dragged on for three years and Deere lost, after which Candee and Swan were free to incorporate in 1870 as Moline Plow Co. with Swan as president.

Broad expansion of product line

The Moline product line increased through the 1870s and ’80s. In 1884, a 3-wheel “Flying Dutchman” sulky plow was introduced. The plow’s third wheel allowed the plow bottom to be carried on the plow frame, rather than being dragged through the ground, and made square corners easy.

The Moline Champion corn planter came out in 1886. It was the first to gear the dropping mechanism to the planter wheel so one kernel at a time could be dropped into the valve, allowing corn to be checkrow or drill planted.

Other products were added, including harrows, cultivators, stalk cutters, cotton planters, potato diggers and sugar beet tools. Acquisitions included Henny Buggy Co., Freeport, Illinois, in 1903; Mandt Wagon Co., Stoughton, Wisconsin, in 1906; Monitor Drill Co., Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1909; and Adriance, Platt & Co. in 1913. These acquisitions gave Moline a line of vehicles, grain drills, and haying and harvesting machinery.