John Deere Celebrates 150 Years in Kansas City

In 1869 Charles Deere and entrepreneur Alvah Mansur established the first branch house in Kansas City, Missouri. The rest is history.

An early advertisement for Deere, Mansur & Co. products

This year marks 150 years of John Deere in Kansas City, the longstanding marketing center for Deere’s agricultural equipment business. The city’s importance was recognized very early in the company’s history.

John Deere himself understood that product distribution was a differentiator for his business. It still is today. Getting parts and finished goods to the customer has always been a priority for John Deere.

When Deere himself moved from Grand Detour, Illinois, to Moline, Illinois, in 1848, it was largely because he had outgrown the transportation possibilities of the nearby Rock River. Deere set his sights on the territories west of Illinois, and Moline, a town that would soon have the railroad and, just downriver, the first bridge across the Mississippi River. The Mississippi would be the gateway to an expansive network of transportation routes snaking across the country.

At the time, the company employed a network of travelers, or salesmen, who canvassed the country making arrangements with dealers to carry John Deere goods. As the company grew, so did its dealer network and its fleet of travelers. Business was also changing.

In 1868, Deere & Company was incorporated, including in the bylaws for the position of “general agent,” a position George Vinton was hired for. Vinton’s job was to manage the fleet of travelers, a position that soon took on greater importance when Deere established its first branch house in Kansas City on July 15, 1869.

A map of Kansas City in the 1890s.

The branch house was called the Deere, Mansur & Co., a co-partnership that included Alvah Mansur, who would manage the branch (not to be confused with Deere & Mansur Company, the planter manufacturer later established in Moline in 1877). At the time, Kansas City had a population of approximately 20,000 people. The first bridge across the Missouri River opened that year.

In 1889, Deere, Mansur & Co. was dissolved and re-incorporated as the John Deere Plow Company. The branch territory now included Kansas, Colorado, Arizona, western Missouri, New Mexico, and parts of Texas and the southwest.

Deere’s branch house network had grown to five primary locations: St. Louis; Minneapolis; Council Bluffs/Omaha, Nebraska; and San Francisco.

The original branch and warehouse was located at the corner of Santa Fe and Ottawa Streets in west Kansas City. It was moved to 13th and Hickory Streets just after 1889 when it became the John Deere Plow Company of Kansas City. In total, five lots were purchased (Nov. 29, 1889) at a price of $26,400. This included the office building “A.” Deere later bought eight more lots, including the depot addition, which amounted to 43,120 square feet.

The John Deere Kansas City branch in the 1920s.

Branch growth continued, adding a sub-branch in Denver, a distribution warehouse in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and a series of transfer houses, where finished products were available to make equipment more accessible.

By 1900, sales grew to $1.5 million with profits of $140,000. The Great Flood of 1903 caused significant business interruption, resulting in the loss of $25,000 with the branch’s first floor records and furnishings destroyed. By 1904, the grandson of John Deere, Stephen H. Velie, became branch manager. Velie’s goal was to expand the brand and develop it to full-line status. By the late 1920s, Deere operations had grown considerably.

In the early 1930s, the dust bowls across the great plains combined with the Great Depression hit the Kansas City branch hard. But the company’s strong commitment to farmers during the Depression resulted in extending retail loans on machinery purchased, helping farmers stay in business. Despite the adverse conditions, the Kansas City branch remained committed to grow. By 1935, Deere had also leased several buildings, totaling over 242,000 square feet. The product line now included tractors, combines, plows, binders, planters, cultivators, mowers, hay rakes, tillage, and other equipment.

John Deere Plow Co. Kansas City Warehouse Crew in 1929

As the Kansas City branch was recovering from the impact of the depression and severe drought, World War II broke out. To support the war effort, a John Deere Battalion was formed in which many John Deere and dealership employees enlisted. The war placed additional stress on John Deere’s support of western agriculture as young men headed off to war, leaving dealerships without technicians. To support western dealers and farmers, the Kansas City branch and warehouse locations offered one-week service schools focused on tractors and combines. Many dealers sent their salesmen and technicians.

The area surrounding the 13th and Hickory location was devastated by the “great flood” of 1903, then again with flooding in 1951, with water rising 17 feet high.

Severe flooding plagued the Kansas City branch in 1951, with 17 feet of water engulfing the buildings.

A new branch, built on higher ground at a cost of $1.5 million, opened in 1953 at 3210 E. 85th Street in Kansas City. Despite the flooding, there was considerable drought throughout the 1950s in Kansas and other western states, which caused farmers to find new ways to irrigate their crops.

Consequently, western farmers were able to expand the variety of crops planted and harvested, facilitated by John Deere’s new two-row cotton picker and self-propelled combine with corn head.

During the 1960s, John Deere held the lead in sales of farm equipment. During this decade the word “Plow” was also dropped from the name “John Deere Plow Company.” The launch of “the New Generation of Power” tractor lineup was a significant point in Deere’s history when four and six-cylinder tractors replaced two-cylinder tractors. The Kansas City branch became intensely focused on growing the tractor business.

John Deere Plow Co. travelers, Kansas City, Mo., 1910

Deere’s Omaha and St. Louis sales branches were closed in the 1970s, and their coverage areas were assigned to the Kansas City branch. This resulted in a large gain in volume and the addition of one sales division. For many years, the Kansas City branch had worked hard on developing dealers without adequate facilities in which to operate. But the decade saw new and renovated dealer facilities. The branch’s three company stores in Salina, Wichita, and Dodge City, Kansas, all received new buildings to show current dealers and dealer prospects the modern facilities. Developing dealer capacities became a focus as sales and finance seminars were continuously offered along with full-time service schools.

The decade of the 1980s was an eventful and challenging period for the Kansas City branch. Farm failures throughout the 1980s posed difficulties. Deere escaped the mergers and consolidations that took place in the agriculture industry, closing several sales branches around the country. In 1987, the East Moline, Illinois, branch merged with Kansas City branch. Iowa and Illinois became part of the Kansas City organization, making it the company’s largest sales branch.

In the early 1990s, the Kansas City branch reached a significant milestone with annual sales over $1 billion, becoming the first branch in company history to do so.

In October 1997, John Deere opened an office in Lenexa, Kansas, to centralize all U.S. branch administration operations such as training, advertising, accounting, dealer development, finance, and other areas.

By 2009, John Deere still had three sales branch locations in Reno, Nevada; Cary, North Carolina; and Kansas City.

Later that year, Deere launched a global operating model that led to closing all branch operations and centralizing sales, marketing and administrative functions into one administrative center called The John Deere Agricultural Marketing Center in Lenexa.

By September 2011, the North American Ag & Turf Marketing Center moved to Olathe, Kansas. The 126,150 square foot facility was designed to accommodate nearly 500 employees to support sales branches and agricultural and turf dealerships in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Today the Ag & Turf Marketing Center is an integral part of the John Deere organization. It is a linchpin, connecting farmers with the world’s most advanced technologies in precision farming. The 182-year evolution of the company’s presence in North American agriculture owes a significant debt to that modest Kansas City branch house that opened in the summer of 1869.

Reflecting On 150 Years in Kansas City Area

On August 22, 2019, John Deere employees, retirees, community leaders and guests gathered at the historic John Deere Plow building located in the West Bottoms of Kansas City, Mo., to celebrate the 150-year significant physical and economic milestone in the company’s history.

Community leaders, including Jackson County Missouri Executive, Frank White Jr.; Kansas City, Missouri Mayor, Quinton Lucas; and Bob Peterson, Chairman of the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City attended the event where Mayor Lucas proclaimed August 22 to be John Deere Day.

“As we reach this important milestone, we recognize the significant role Kansas City has played in our company’s history,” said Cyndee Smiley, John Deere manager of public relations for North America. “There really is no better place than right here in the West Bottoms, where we could bring our employees, retirees and dealers to celebrate this special occasion.”

The event featured four stations for visitors to explore featuring historic lessons about John Deere’s presence in Kansas City.

John Deere opened its Kansas City Branch office 150 years ago, where it quickly became the largest distribution center and sales hub for the rapidly growing company that was founded in 1837.

Once opened, the Kansas City office provided John Deere with a gateway to expanding new markets in the west. “Its proximity to roads, rivers and rail systems helped John Deere grow and keep pace with a rapidly growing country,” said John Lagemann, senior vice president for John Deere. “As our company has continued to grow, Kansas City, and the surrounding area, have played and continue to play a key role.”

Today, the John Deere Ag Marketing Center, in Olathe, Kan., is home to a variety of marketing, accounting and dealer support functions for the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The company’s iconic green and yellow equipment is sold at numerous independent dealerships across Missouri and Kansas where John Deere employs more than 1,500 people and another 1,100 of its retirees also live.

Looking forward, Lagemann said the lessons John Deere has learned from the past will only better prepare it for the future. “As we look ahead, John Deere remains firmly committed to providing our customers with the latest equipment technology and data required to meet the ever-increasing food, fiber and fuel needs of a growing global population,” Lagemann said. “Our higher purpose of serving those who are linked to the land, helps guide us as we continue on the journey our founder began back in 1837. We believe that journey ultimately leads to a future filled with great promise and opportunity for all farmers.”

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John Deere Celebrates 150 Years in Kansas City

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