Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Everything I Know I Learned from John Deere

This week (February 7) marks the 206th birthday of John Deere.

You know the name. At least if you're a farmer like me you do. It's one of those household names, like Hershey, that's become so ubiquitous that it's easy to forget there was a real man, and a real story, behind it.

The real John Deere--or as one friend referred to him, "the tractor guy--" built one of the oldest companies in the United States, dating back to before the Civil War. When he died at the age of 82, he was a wealthy, respected, and successful business man. His funeral was the largest the town of Moline, Illinois, had ever seen.

But that's the end of the story. In the beginning, Deere was anything but a success. He was a failure, and a rather spectacular one at that. As a young man in Vermont he became a blacksmith. His first blacksmith shop burned to the ground. He built another one. That shop burned, too. (At this point his story sounds like the one about the castle built in the swamp in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL). He was broke, with a growing family, and he owed money. He did what made sense to him. He left his family and skipped out on the debt.

Things could only get better for him in Illinois, and they did. He built a nice life. No one would have blamed him if he had played it safe and stuck with his blacksmth shop. Instead he bet everything on a new kind of steel plow. Even as his plow business grew, he was never satisfied. His plows had to be the best. "Good enough" was never good enough for Deere, no matter the cost.

And so, in the end, his story is the story of the American dream. It's the story of a man with a dream who wouldn't let go no matter how many times fate tried to loosen his grasp. It's the story of a man who made the dream come true with plain hard work and uncompromising standards.

It's the story of a man who deserves to be remembered when we turn the key of the big green machine with the nine yellow letters.

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