When worldwide tractor manufacturing began in the 1950s, John Deere was no stranger to international sales. As far back as 1876, President Charles Deere demonstrated John Deere plows at the Universal Exposition in Paris, France, winning the prized Sevres Vase (which can be seen at the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois). In Argentina, the British firm Agar, Cross & Company operated as sales agents on behalf of John Deere beginning in the 1890s. And starting in 1886, Westbrook & Fairchild operated as a sales agent in Canada.
In 1900, 24-year-old George Mixter, the great grandson of John Deere and the company’s superintendent of factories, travelled extensively to establish global business relationships. He opened a sales outlet in Chile, spent 10 months in Buenos Aires, and visited France, Uruguay, Brazil, England, Sweden, and Germany. In 1908, he spent six months in Russia, concluding the timing was not right to build a factory there.
In 1903, more than fifty agencies represented John Deere in markets around the world. In 1908, the John Deere Export Department was incorporated, and opened in New York City. Four years later, the Export Company was relocated to Moline, operating as the Deere & Company Export Department out of the new John Deere Plow Company building at 1300 19th Street in Moline.
In the 1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression in the United States, tractor sales to Russia—which made up 10% of company sales—helped keep Deere afloat.
By the early 1950s, Deere was again considering opening manufacturing operations outside of North America, ultimately approving construction of its first non-North American factory, located in Scotland in 1951. But the following year the project was terminated, reportedly due to a new government in the UK that did not favor the project.
Export sales started to decrease in the early 1950s, falling 45% to about $13 million between 1951 and 1956. Fortunately, Deere was well into its global expansion plan.
In June 1955, Deere & Company held its largest export conference to date in Moline. It included over 90 export dealers from around the world. As a result of the meetings, the Export Department was eliminated, and replaced by a new subsidiary named John Deere, C.A. This set the legal framework for a series of international moves that included the acquisition of Heinrich Lanz AG in Mannheim, Germany, in 1956, and the construction of facilities in Monterrey, Mexico and Rosario, Argentina.
Lanz’s history paralleled the history of Deere in many ways. It was founded in 1859 by a blacksmith, evolved into an agricultural equipment manufacturer, and just three years after the debut of the John Deere tractor in 1918, Lanz introduced its first tractor, the Bulldog. At the time of the acquisition, the Lanz product line included 24 tractor models, as well as pull-type and self-propelled combines and implements. It operated a massive factory in Mannheim, Germany, and a factory in Spain.
See some historical footage from the Lanz factory in Mannheim, Germany, in the years following Deere’s acquisition in 1956.
With the acquisition of Lanz, Deere had its first manufacturing operation in Europe. Soon, assembly operations would also commence in South America.
After two years of negotiations, Deere reached a manufacturing agreement with the Argentine government in 1958 permitting assembly of 3,000 tractors a year for the next five years. The agreement also allowed John Deere, C.A., Deere’s holding company, “to make any number of agricultural implements with the importing only of raw materials.”
South American manufacturing also extended the life of Deere’s two-cylinder tractor. When the temporary Rosario plant began operations in 1959, the two-cylinder 730 diesel model became the first tractor Deere assembled in Argentina. The 730 was offered in four styles (standard, tricycle, adjustable front axle, and Hi-Crop) and continued to be produced until 1970. In 1964, the vertical two-cylinder Model 445 (the Argentine version of the U.S. Model 435) joined the production line.
In Monterrey, Mexico, a formal plant opening took place on February 7, 1959. The opening ceremony was attended by John Deere Intercontinental, S.A. directors; Mexican branch personnel; and Mexican dealers. At the time of the ceremony the plant assembled three models of tractors (630, 730, and 830), 400 Series Disk Plows, rotary hoes, wagon gears, tool carriers, and 1200 Series Killefer Harrows. Assembly of the Model 435 Tractor began later that year.
By the time dealers from around the world got a sneak peek at the New Generation of Power at Deere in Dallas in August 1960, they saw not only a new lineup of equipment, but an entirely new company. The New Generation of Power was a transition of cylinders, of horsepower, of styling and culture, but above all else, of intention. When Deere entered tractor production in 1918, its goal was to be a strong second in the industry. By the early 1950s, Deere was no longer satisfied with second place. A new equipment lineup, supported by a worldwide manufacturing and dealer organization, put the pieces in place to realize the goal of becoming the largest agricultural and industrial equipment manufacturer in the world.