The Homestead National Monument was filled with people Tuesday evening, many of who were wearing green hats and jackets.
The color was proudly displayed in support of a presentation from a John Deere historian, who shared the company’s rich history with those attending.
The presentation, given by Chris Boyens, John Deere senior heritage marketing and research specialist, focused on John Deere, the man, and how the former blacksmith’s simple idea led to the creation of one of agriculture’s most recognized companies.
“I like to give people a glimpse at John, the man, and the trials and tribulations he went through,” Boyens said before giving his presentation to the full room of spectators. “Most people don’t recognize John, they recognize the tractor. Some of the youth today don’t even realize that there was a John Deere. I try and get people to know the man behind the company.”
Boyens gives several presentations on the company, ranging from John Deere’s technological evolution to tractor lines, but said he most enjoys talking about the company’s founder, Deere himself.
Several members of Boyens family worked for John Deere throughout their lives, making the company a clear choice for Boyens, whose been with John Deere for seven years.
Blake Bell, park historian, said a John Deere presentation has been in the works for a long time, because of the nearly 175 year-old company’s importance to homesteading.
“We were looking to bring in a John Deere historian for this idea of implement technology and how it relates to the Homestead Act itself,” Bell said. “I reached out to the John Deere historical society and they were very excited to come over here. They jumped at the chance. It all just fell into place.”
Park superintendent Mark Engler agreed the presentation went hand-in-hand with the Homestead’s history of settling the Great Plains.
“A number of different companies come to mind when we think of early farm implements and the evolution of the industrial side of the homesteading story and John Deere is definitely one of those companies,” Engler said. “(Boyens) is very familiar with the John Deere story. When he leaves, we’ll have a better insight into that story and its relationship to the homesteading story.
“John Deere and the Homestead are very closely connected because many of those plows that were being manufactured were actually being sold to homesteaders.”
Bell said the turnout for the presentation, which included area tractor and FFA groups, was larger than expected, forcing the Homestead to move the presentation to a larger room.
John Deere, officially called Deere & Company, was founded in 1837 and has grown from a one-man blacksmith shop into a corporation that does business around the world and employs more than 50,000 people.
The Moline, Ill. based company was founded in 1837 by John Deere, who developed and manufactured the first commercially successful cast-steel plow.
One John Deere fanatic in attendance was Ron Anderson, who works on John Deere combines and GPS technology for Oregon Trail Equipment.
Anderson has visited many John Deere museums and attractions and said he’s fascinated with Deere’s life.
“It’s just incredible how endearing he was,” Anderson said. “The guy went through hell to do all this. If he could see today what he started, he’d be amazed.”
Boyens talked to the crowd about some of the hardships John Deere endured during the farm pioneer’s life.
“He lost his wife, lost his father when he was four and lost his mother when he was 23,” Boyens said. “He went through a lot of trials and tribulations. He had his business burned down twice and had to move to Illinois without his family to start a new life out west.
“In a lot of the history books, they talk about the west being tamed. If it wasn’t for the technology of John’s plow, a lot of this land wouldn’t have been tamed. The settlers couldn’t have turned the soil if they used old cast-iron European technology.
During his presentation, Boyens also shared many unknown facts about the man who created one of the most recognizable tractor and implement brand names.
“Probably the most interesting thing about John is that he was a founding member of the Whig party, which became the Republican party,” Boyens said. “He was also a raging abolitionist during the Civil War, so he was anti-slavery all through the war. Most people don’t know these personal aspects about John.”
Despite harsh economic times, Boyens said John Deere, which will celebrate its 175th anniversary next year, is showing strong numbers and is, “still stable, still strong, still John Deere.”