About 50 years ago, John Deere introduced a new form of tractor for an entirely new market.
It was the late 1950s, halfway between the introduction of the first John Deere tractor in 1918 and the 100th anniversary. Different manufacturers approached a number of John Deere dealers about carrying their respective lines of lawn and garden tractors. Managers at the John Deere Horicon Works in Wisconsin took notice. By 1959, preliminary design work on lawn and garden tractors was underway, but the timing was less than ideal.
The company was close to unveiling the breakthrough New Generation of Power Tractor product line, and the idea of launching a new product segment was not a priority.
However, more research to prove the lawn and garden tractor concept was approved. A survey of sales branches showed support, and as a result, an aggressive timeline was established. If Horicon could design, test, and begin production of Deere’s first lawn and garden tractor by July 1963, then the project was a go.
John Deere engineers, designers, marketers, and dealers were ready to go by the summer of 1963. A series of sales previews was held in Horicon in May, with the first production model 110, serial number 02551, completed on June 27, 1963. One-thousand tractors were built between June and August that year for sale at dealerships in the northeastern United States.
Like John Deere agricultural and industrial equipment, the 110 Lawn and Garden Tractor was purpose-built.
It also followed in the footsteps of the bold new styling, comforts, and ease of operation of the New Generation of Power line-up.
Advertising helped make the connection with customers, though visually there was no mistaking the company behind it. The “lines reveal its pedigree” noted early advertising.
The man behind the design was Henry Dreyfuss, the famed industrial designer who first styled John Deere tractors in 1937, and whose firm led the design of the New Generation line-up. The 110 was available in two versions: the standard model 110 with a conventional transmission with three speeds forward, and one reverse speed; and a 110 Deluxe, which featured selective ground speed control.
The 110 featured industry-first safety features as well, including the triple-safe ignition system. The feature required the tractor gearshift to be in neutral, and the mower to be disengaged before the engine could be started. Adjustable rear-tread, ground-speed control, and a long line of implements further differentiated John Deere’s entry into the consumer products business.
On Feb. 3, 1964, a satisfied customer in Illinois sent Deere CEO William Hewitt a letter. He recounted how, in 1935, he went to a farm sale, and was impressed with the high prices of used John Deere equipment. “The way those farmers bid on that old machinery sure surprised me,” the customer wrote.
He told Hewitt he had purchased only John Deere since that time, and was thrilled to learn of the launch of the 110 Lawn and Garden tractor. He went on to say that he “wasn’t disappointed” when he saw the 110 for the first time. “You got the nicest little garden tractor…I have ever seen. If you can produce enough of them for the first five years I will be surprised,” he offered.
The model 110 Lawn and Garden Tractor remained in the line for 11 years. In 1965, it was one of 10 products to receive the Award of Excellence for Achievement in Industrial Design at an Industrial Trade Fair and Congress in Los Angeles.