The Iowa Agriculturist
It has been said that all the American pioneer really needed was a gun,
an axe, and a steel plow. In fact, the John
Deere plow probably meant more to the opening and development of the
American Cornbelt than any other single invention.
The first plows were very rough wooden tools. They were made to break
up the ground so seeds could be planted. They did not turn a furrow or
groove, but simply loosened the soil.
People most often used oxen
to pull the plow, a very difficult task. In fact, it took two yoke
of oxen and three people to plow one acre a day. One person would steer
the plow, one would drive the team, and another cleared the blade.
Soon improvements were made in the plow. In the early 1800's the use
of steel rather than wood made plowing easier. A knife or rolling cutter
was added to help cut through the soil. In 1837 John
Deere tried his new type of plow and had a great deal of success.
He had taken a saw blade and worked it into the shape of a plow. His
new discovery used a self-polishing blade and moldboard (curved iron plate)
and pulled easier than any other plow to that time. It soon became the
standard all over America.
After 1860 many farmers could plow sitting down.
Later, rotating disks and spring-tooth harrows were added to help break
up the ground more easily.
From: Explorations in Iowa History Project, Price Laboratory
School, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA
Photos used by permission from the State Historical Society
of Iowa, Iowa City.