Preserving 100 Years of Tractor History

Take a look inside the John Deere Archives to learn about the research process and management of 100 years of tractor history.

Archives Storage

The Archives has relocated key records to fireproof cabinets for additional protection.

Anniversaries are a time to both reflect and to look forward. For the John Deere Archives, it’s also an opportunity to think about preservation.

“Planning John Deere Tractors at 100 activities really began in the records,” said Neil Dahlstrom, manager, corporate history.

The John Deere Archives was created in 1976 to capture the legal, fiscal, and historical records of Deere & Company. What started as a few boxes in the basement of Worldwide Headquarters is now a collection that comprises millions of records including photographs, advertising, art, equipment, correspondence, patents, accounting records, and much more.

For the Archives, managing historical assets is about the records themselves, but also requires documenting why the records were created, who created them, and what they were replaced by. “Research in Archives is forensic work,” said Dahlstrom.

John Deere Tractors at 100 provided an opportunity to retrieve records that the current Archives staff had never seen before. “Archives are not organized like libraries in the sense that there is uniformity,” noted Dahlstrom. “Rather, they are organic and the organizational systems of the creators, whether a department or individuals, are preserved along with the records. This makes research a challenge.”

Research for John Deere Tractors at 100 began with a survey of the early tractor history of the company, which pre-dates the acquisition of the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company by nearly a decade. Between advertising, parts drawings, photographs, correspondence, Board of Directors minutes, bulletins, and more, Archives staff reviewed the known historical records – what Dahlstrom calls the “greatest hits,” –  but then focused on records that would provide new insights.

The research process is no different than that of a reporter or an analyst, Dahlstrom said. It begins with a strategy, and is followed by an iterative process of discovery to follow names, dates, and other information in records. Then the pieces are put together.

What makes the Archives research process unique is that along the way there is also a review of the preservation needs of the materials. That includes assessing the physical and environmental needs of each item. Solutions can range from new acid-free boxes, to relocation, to waterproof and fireproof cabinets, to contracting work with conservators to restore one-of-a-kind records.

In that sense, John Deere Tractors at 100 also requires that the materials are still here and accessible for John Deere Tractors at 200.

Records are proof that something happened, and if we are lucky, we have the records that tell us why and how something happened. As stewards of the collection, our job is to extract what we can, but also to leave it in better condition than when we found it.”

—Neil Dahlstrom, manager, Corporate History

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Preserving 100 Years of Tractor History

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