In 1836, John Deere—then a young, white Vermont father and blacksmith—moved to Illinois to settle debts brought on by two forge fires—and wound up inventing a superior plow.
Deere was an excellent blacksmith whose plow improvement was purely pragmatic: many of his farming customers were ready to give up on Illinois, and he needed their payments to bring his family to him from Vermont. Farmers accustomed to sandy soil discovered that the Midwest’s rich, black soil stuck to their easily pitted, heavy iron plows—causing frequent pauses to scrape off what they called “gumbo.” Deere tinkered with a discarded steel blade from a sawmill, thinking that a shiny, curved, lightweight plow might “slice through gumbo.” Soon overcoming skeptics by demonstrations and giving samples to farmers, John Deere’s “singing plow” became wildly popular. By 1838 he had moved his family to his side and had established a manufacturing company still in existence. The only missing piece in Maurer’s tale is a sudden leap from “steel was rare that far west and too pricey” to the big success story; readers must make their own deductions. Otherwise, the text is smoothly conversational and has just enough details to interest without overwhelming. The illustrations are gorgeous: semiprimitive paintings with deliberate crackling for an aging effect. The winding patterns of rivers and plows are especially noteworthy.
An informative look at an inventor and his invention’s impact. (glossary, additional facts, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)