It’s synonymous with John Deere. It represents quality, integrity, innovation, and commitment. It represents generations of customers, community impact, hard work, and strong relationships. The leaping deer trademark is so recognizable worldwide that people often attribute depictions of a jumping deer in sculptures and paintings to John Deere.
Can you imagine buying a John Deere product lacking the words “John Deere” or the leaping deer trademark? Probably not. Today the leaping deer stands for all the things it stood for in the early 1870s when John Deere and his friend, Melvin Gould, sat together at Gould’s home in Moline, Illinois, to brainstorm a way to visually distinguish John Deere products.
The Genuine Moline Plow
Together, Deere and Gould developed the first of the now world-famous leaping deer trademark. Some of the details of how it came to be are unclear, but parts of the story of its origin survived.
It all started with a fight over branding. In 1867 Deere & Company filed an injunction against Candee, Swan & Co., a neighboring Moline plow manufacturer, for using a wordmark and artwork that looked close, too close, to those on John Deere plows.
“Every genuine Moline Plow bears the brand of which the following is a facsimile, showing its position on the beam; and whenever any manufacturer or agent attempts to palm off any other as the Moline Plow, he is sailing under false colors, and trying to defraud and deceive you,” the 1867 John Deere product catalog warned.
The Rock Island County Circuit Court affirmed the claim in 1869, but there was no time for celebration. The Illinois Supreme Court would hear an appeal. According to Chief Justice Sidney Breese, Deere couldn’t claim exclusive use of the name Moline Plow because the phrase did not have trademark protection. Similarities in wordmarks and artwork between the two companies, though similar, could continue to co-exist, the judge decreed. Deere lost the case.
Enter Gould, the Rock Island County surveyor, whose occupation required precise measurement and calculation. Gould’s son later remembered frequent visits to the family home by John Deere, a “tall, dark figure in a black suit” who “descended from his surrey in front of the house” on 7th Avenue in Moline. During one of the visits, Deere had a special request of Gould: Could he use his drafting skills to design a new trademark for the company?
Birth of the Leaping Deer, 1876
History didn’t record the precise level of collaboration between Deere and Gould, but application of the trademark was paramount. Gould cut a stencil from a sheet of brass, a pattern that could be used to uniformly apply the leaping deer to the wood beams of John Deere plows. The mark appeared at least as early as 1874 in newspapers and was registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 1876. According to the registration, the mark had been in use for three years.
This trademark shows a deer bounding over a log. The type of deer is unknown. Company lore has said that the design was based on a type of deer native to Africa, but that might be more myth than reality. It may simply be Gould or John Deere’s representation of a deer. The idealized deer would take on a life of its own, changing and evolving over time.
Trademark of Quality, 1912
It wasn’t until about 25 years later that the native North American white-tailed deer was portrayed for the first time. This second version of the John Deere trademark was being used by 1910 and registered in 1912. The deer again was shown leaping over a log. However, there was more detail and definition to the artwork. The slogan “The Trade Mark of Quality Made Famous by Good Implements” appeared for the first time, extending across the bottom.
In 1936 Deere’s standardization committee identified a need to “better adapt the trademark for stenciling on products,” including the full line of tractors, combines, seeders, spreaders, plows, and more. Details on the deer trademark were removed, and the deer became a solid silhouette. This change, combined with the outstretched legs, provided a stronger, more recognizable profile. To further amplify the mark, a 12-sided border was added around the deer, and the antlers were changed slightly.
The words, “John Deere, Moline, Ill.” remained in the same position, but were made somewhat bolder, and the slogan, “The Trade Mark of Quality Made Famous by Good Implements,” stayed unchanged.
Deere weathered the agricultural depression of the early 1920s, then the Great Depression, which saw sales fall nearly 80 percent. Sales rebounded for the company’s centennial in 1937, reaching $100 million for the first time. The centennial deer trademark represented a more resilient and adaptable company. Removing the border from the previous design further simplified the mark, making it more adaptable to the growing line of products.
John Deere was offering more products than ever before, which meant even more varied places to apply the trademark. Perhaps it was merely to mark the company’s centennial. Records do not tell us why, but this 1937 version would endure for the next 13 years.
The 1950 trademark update was a breakthrough in many respects when it first appeared in 1940, even though it wasn’t adopted until 10 years later. First, the deer’s antlers were turned forward. Its tail was pointed upward to resemble the white-tailed deer. And the deer itself was no longer bounding over a log. The words “John Deere,” now in a bolder square-serif font, were raised over the deer’s head. A new slogan — “Quality Farm Equipment” was set in a bold sans serif typeface and reversed out of the ground beneath the deer.
The words “Moline, Ill.” were also dropped — a change long overdue because John Deere was increasing its reach throughout the world. The surrounding border was modified, becoming a four-sided shape with flat sides and a curved top and bottom to unify and contain the elements of the trademark.
The 1956 version of the trademark, which was registered in 1962, represented yet again the call for a simpler design. The slogan “Quality Farm Equipment” was dropped. By this time, John Deere was established in the construction equipment industry, and contractors and loggers were familiar with yellow and black machines bearing the symbol. A radius was given to the corners of the border, and a slight curve was added to all four sides of the ellipse.
The words “John Deere” were placed below the leaping deer for the first time. The deer itself was left relatively unchanged: legs extended, antlers forward.
In 1963, on the heels of the launch of the New Generation of Power three years before, Deere became the world’s largest manufacture of agricultural equipment. The launch of the 10-series, then the 20-series in 1963, ushered in a new era of productive, efficient machines for the farm, the job-site, and the home.
A clean, contemporary look marked the trademark’s revision in 1968. A company memo noted, “the new trademark is in keeping with the progress being made throughout all divisions of the Company … it provides for better reproduction and greater readability under a wider range of usage.” The deer image was streamlined to show a straight-side silhouette with just two legs, instead of four, and one four-point rack of antlers. The John Deere logo type font was changed, employing a hand-modified version based on the Helvetica font. The width of the ellipse border was narrowed, and the size of the deer was increased.
At the turn of the century, outgoing Deere chairman Hans Becherer announced the newest evolution of the leaping deer trademark — the first since 1968. This updated mark is described as true to its strong John Deere heritage, yet its sharpened antlers, angles, muscularity and attitude give the trademark an energized and dynamic edge in a technological age. Notably, the “leaping deer” is leaping upward.
“The dawn of a new millennium marked by unusual technological innovation was precisely a point in time when the next step in the evolution of our logo was called for,” said Becherer. “The more modern deer symbolizes strength, energy, movement, and progressiveness.”
Throughout the years, the refinements to the trademark reflected the company at those points in time as well as what it saw as important to its future. The current version illustrates John Deere’s determination to stay focused on being the premier company in its industries worldwide, while remaining firmly rooted in its basic values of quality, innovation, integrity, and commitment.
“It stands today as the longest continuously used trademark by a Fortune 500 company,” said Audrey Roman, director, brand management for John Deere. “There have been eight versions, each representative of its time, and each communicating something about the company’s future.”