The first steel plow in America came about when Martin Van Buren was president and Steel was a scarce commodity, and yet it caught the eye of a young blacksmith named John Deere who was visiting an Illinois sawmill in 1837. He would change the world when he took it home.
Steel Plow: From Eureka To The Great Depression!
What was used before the Steel Plow?
Prior to the steel plow, cast iron was used after being introduced by early European settlers.
These iron plows worked particularly well for farmers who settled along the Eastern coast. because the soil tended to be sandy (not sticky) in nature.
As farmers began moving westward towards the Great Plains, they discovered that the soil was much tougher to plow through and found themselves having to clean the plows more often because of the sticky nature of the soil. This drawback made growing crops very difficult for farmers with the eastern cast iron plow.
Who invented the Steel Plow?
In 1837, John Deere saved the day with a new invention! western farmers had a tough time plowing through sticky soil and so he figured out a way to make things easier for them by creating a plow utilizing polished steel (he would also go on to create a farming revolution).
How did John Deere invent the Steel Plow?
He forged his first blade into a steel plow by taking an old steel saw blade and polishing it up because during that time, steel was hard to find in the United States.
Why did John Deere invent the Steel Plow?
The whole point of creating a Steel Plow was to find a new invention for farmers where the soil would not stick. The soil we’re talking about was the soil in the 1830s when young America was moving west and settling the prairie.
During those days, farmers were interested in land with rich, black soil stretched out like an ocean of grass, which if cultivated, could amass fortunes, had it not been for the soil itself.
One of the major obstacles was the plants of the native prairie which possessed a tangle of wickedly tough roots that standard plows of the day (cast iron was the metal, as we said before) had difficulty cutting through.
The soil was sticky and would clump up like a chunk on the blade of a plow, forcing a farmer to stop every few minutes to clear it.
So when Deere took his new invention made up of the smooth surface of the steel, it seemed like a logical alternative to coarser the iron (even if the steel he took was from an old steel blade)!
After having it polished, he went to another farmer who tested this new steel plow.
The investigation was a success as Deere’s highly polished steel could shed, or scour, the sticky black prairie soil.
John Deere’s invention was extremely marketable, earning this nickname:
By 1842, Deere’s steel plow was selling by the hundred and by 1843, he had sold four hundred. This progress helped his plow earn the name grasshopper plows because they were able to cut through the tough soil and grass, just like a grasshopper would.
John Deere’s invention was not the first steel plow:
A fellow blacksmith named John Lane from Illinois was credited as among the first inventors of the steel plow in 1833.
John Lane’s first steel plow was a commercial hit! It was a success in the sense that farmers wanted to purchase his polished steel plows, but this blacksmith never progressed further than making plows one at a time (which was how all plows were made back then).
From Eureka! to Oh No!:
A steel plow was a shift into industrial-scale production, but there was a problem. What made John Deere’s name synonymous with farm technology also contributed to massive erosion that has damaged farmland and polluted waterways causing habitat for wildlife to be lost and species to be driven to extinction.
By over plowing up the prairie itself and getting rid of the native stuff that’s there and turning the soil over, the soil got washed away.
The modern plow has helped to feed billions but the absence or plucking off the roots of native plants to hold the soil down, contributed to a drought that turned the loose soil into dust that literally buried entire towns.
Other Frequently Asked Questions About A Steel Plow:
- What impacts did the steel plow have?
The steel plow had a positive impact as it was strong enough to break the sticky soil in the black prairie soil.
Moving westward, the steel plow helped farmers plant the seeds deeper in the soil as its sharp steel blade cut through the tough, root-filled sod of the Midwest, while its smooth, polished old steel prevented the sticky soil from clogging the plow.
This new invention and other equipment that followed transformed the midwestern prairie into fertile farmland.
- What were the positive and negative effects of the steel plow?
While it allowed farming to occur, there were other impacts as a result of the use of the steel plow, for example, the steel plow helped contribute to one of the darkest periods of American History: The 1930s Great Depression. Due to the new farming advancements, farmers had begun to overproduce crops and the soil began to become poor.
- How much faster was the steel plow?
The steel plow helped farm up to 122 times faster than the cast iron plow of the 1800s. More acres of land began to experience being tilled and more crops were being produced faster! It even happened with not much effort from the plowman, especially when there was less clean up involved.
- What was life like before the steel plow?
Before John Deere invented the steel plow, farmers had to use the wood plow which broke frequently or they used cast iron plows which were also hard and frustrating for farmers as it didn’t break the soil up good enough to plant crops and when it did break the soil the dirt got stuck on the plow.
- How much did John Deere’s steel plow cost?
John Deere invented the steel plow in 1837 and in the following year he built 10 plows and began selling them for ten to twelve dollars per plow. This new invention made with polished steel worked much better than any other plow previously used, he would go on to sell 100 more and then 400 more after that!
- How did people farm before the steel plow?
This prehistoric digging stick first came into existence in 4,000 B.C used to basically point sticks that were pulled through the soil.
- Who invented the steel plow?
This prehistoric digging stick was turned on its head by John Deere.
- How do farmers use plows?
The plow has always been an incredibly important agricultural tool since the beginning of history as it was used to turn, flip, break up soil, add seeds in addition to burying crop residues, and help control weeds.
- Do farmers still plow their fields?
Most farmers either use conservation tillage methods or do not till the soil at all. They don’t actually ‘plow’ their fields these days as farmers try to implement minimally disruptive techniques that leave much of the plant residue on the surface of the soil aiding in reducing erosion.