I grew up in a family that prefers John Deere machinery over anything red. This choice can be traced back to my grandfather– we still have the General Purpose tractor that he purchased in 1936. (My dad restored it several years ago.) So my interest in all things John Deere comes naturally.
In a post last fall about Grand Detour, Illinois, the origins of John Deere’s company was explored, along with a look at his 1837 home and the community where he lived. The story continues in Moline, Illinois where Deere moved his company and his family in 1848. The business continued to prosper over the decades and well into the 1900s. Eventually there was pressure to move the headquarters to a larger city. The response was to stay in Moline, but construct a building worthy of Deere and Company’s success and position in the global market.
Company president William Hewitt wanted a structure that was impressive, yet not overdone. Well-known Finnish architect Eero Saarinen was approached to design a new headquarters. (Saarinen also designed the St. Louis arch and a home in Columbus, Indiana for Irvin Miller, the chairman of Cummins, Inc.)
Work was completed in 1964. The stunning new building won several architectural awards, including two from the American Institute of Architects.
As you drive up a winding lane toward the headquarters, you see a dark, rugged-looking structure with horizontal lines. The construction material is a type of weathering steel which gives the buildings an earthy look as it oxidizes over time.
The outside might be subdued, but inside the building, everything shines – the floor, the windows, and the sophisticated equipment. There’s a display area for the public to learn about John Deere products and history.
We were greeted on the exhibit floor by Don, a friendly and knowledgeable host. You’re invited to sit on the various pieces of equipment and look them over. The seats are comfy, and the cabs are filled with the latest technology. We were told that if a customer needs a piece of equipment and the only one available is the display model (production can take three to eight weeks), company employees will open the shiny doors and let the buyer take the tractor, combine, or whatever it is.
There’s interesting old machinery to learn about, too. The tractor below is a cut-away model that was used to educate ag students and mechanics. Certain areas of the exterior metal are removed to see the engine parts and how they work.
After visiting the world headquarters, you can take a drive around town to see where various Deere family members lived. Two of the homes are open for tours.
John Deere’s Moline house, named Red Cliff, is located on 11th Avenue. It sits on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. The property was sold out of the Deere family in 1933.
John Deere’s son, Charles, ran the business operations of the company for forty-six years. He and his wife, Mary, built Overlook in 1872. Today you can tour the house and beautiful gardens.
Right across the street from Charles’ estate is the Butterworth Center, where Charles and Mary’s daughter, Katherine Deere Butterworth, lived with her husband and children. It’s open to the public, too.
One of the grandest Deere homes belonged to William L. Velie, a grandson of John Deere. Velie worked as an executive for Deere and Company and also founded Velie Motor Company. He produced early automobiles and later airplanes. In 1912 Velie and his wife, Annie, built this palatial house of 42 rooms. It was inspired by Italian villas the couple saw while traveling through Europe. In later years the home was a restaurant. Today it is the location of QCR Holdings and a branch of Quad City Bank and Trust.
John Deere and Company and Deere family members have left their mark in Moline, Illinois. It’s an enjoyable experience to take in the sites and history.