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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.

Plow drawn by two oxen

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.

Breaking Plow

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.

A farmer sits as his horses pull.

Later, rotating disks and spring-tooth harrows were added to help break up the ground more easily.

Horse-drawn disk

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.

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