I believe that the steel plow was invented by John Deere during his days as a blacksmith. That is where I would start my research. The Deere corporate site has a history posted there in commemoration of Mr. Deere's 200 birthday which was last month. I am sure you will get a lot more info on the web if you type in "John Deere biography"
Here is a couple of links to Deere's Corporate page
Learn about John Deer's history, and about his invention. Also learn about how he invented the first steel plow. This was one of the greatest events in all of prairie history.
John Deere began his career as a blacksmith in 1825. He gained fame for his careful workmanship and ingenuity.
In Western Vermont everyone wanted his highly polished hay forks and shovels. But business in Vermont dropped in the 1830's. Deere's future didn't look very good as a blacksmith.
Many pioneers heard about John Deere and asked him to leave his wife and family behind and to go with them to their home town. But his family planned to meet up with them some where along the trail. He left with a bundle of tools and a small amount of cash.
They finally reached where they were going, Grand Detour, Illinois in 1836. The village had run into a problem with farming. The cast iron plow they had brought from New England wasn't working. Deere knew a lot about metals, and he told them that the cast iron plow was only made for the sandy soil of New England and wasn't made for their rich Midwestern soil. So when they tried using it they had to stop every couple steps to clean out all of the dirt that got onto it.
In 1837 Deere made a plow out of a steel saw blade. This plow was the answer to all of the farmer's problems. John Deere went into business manufacturing plows.
Usually blacksmiths made the metals as they got their orders. But John made the metals before he got his orders. When people found out about this new method they called it "Self-polishers".
John had to make his plows out of whatever metals he could get his hands on. 10 years after he created his first steel plow he was selling over 1,000 plows each year.
In 1868 Deere's company was incorporated under the name Deere and Company. Later Deere's son Charles, who was later to succeed as president of the company was elected vice president and treasurer. Charles Deere was an excellent businessman who established marketing centers, called branch houses, to serve the network or Independent retail dealers.
At the time of Charles Deere's death in 1907, the company was making a wide range of steel plows, cultivators, corn and cotton planters, and other implements. There still are many John Deere stores around the US.
This invention was one of the reasons that prairies are scattered and that we barely ever see them. But it also helped the farmers farm on the prairies.
Iron plows came long before steel ones. John Deere became famous for welding a steel face to an iron plow. The iron plows of the day were soft and did not hold an edge and did not self clean. The harder, smoother steel face was much better at cutting the virgin sod of the prairie grass and more importantly self cleaned it's face of the sticky soils, laying the forrow over with out having to stop often to scrape the face of the plow clean. That was the main advantage and why Deere became the big corporate giant is today. Not a bad outcome for a guy that had several blacksmith shops burn to the ground and was chased by creditors for money owed on loans to build those shops, and whose inlaws never thought he'd amount to much.
"When did the technology for making hardened steel come along?"
I know that in the 1600s and most of the 1700s, all steel came from Europe, which made it very expensive. Because of the price, it was common to "recycle" steel, not by melting it down, but by welding it to an iron backing like ax heads. The head might be mostly iron, but the cutting edge would be steel if available to hold an edge longer. I don't know when steel was first produced in America and won't I be embarrassed if it was in Bethlehem PA.
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