Moline Plow Company History

The area known as the Tri Cities in the early 1900’s played host to a number of massive farm corporations. One of these was the Moline Plow Company, at one time billed as the 5th largest implement manufacturer in the world and possessing the largest dedicated tractor manufacturing plant in the world. The company at its peak would employ thousands of workers, a sales force that spanned the world, over 20 branch houses and millions of dollars in sales.

The roots of the Moline Plow Company were originally formed from the agricultural supply company Alanzo Norse had owned, an agricultural warehouse at Main & Wells in Moline from the 1850’s selling revolving hay rakes and fanning mills built back east. Henry W. Candee had worked for Norse already when Robert K. Swan was hired to help with sales. The pair eventually bought out Norse around 1854 and continued the business as partners. In 1865 the pair became Candee, Swan & Co. Associated with them as partners were L. E. Hemingway (a relation to Ernest Hemingway), J. B. Wyckoff and others.

Early on, the new company had produced their own fanning mills and hay-racks but had plans to go into plows and other implements. Shortly after Candee, Swan & Co formed, they found a man to run the shop with the needed experience; Andrew Friberg (Friburg), a former Deere man of almost a dozen years. Friberg had developed health problems as Deeres shop foreman so had gone to Colorado for a year, and upon returning to Moline associated himself with the company. Friberg brought with him a wealth of knowledge from Deeres shops and on the design of the plow which almost instantly put the company as a strong competitor in a very crowded and competitive field.

A year later in 1866 George W. Stephens added enough capital to the business to make him an equal partner. George Washington Stevens had been named Washington due to having been born Feb 22 1799, which was George Washingtons birthday. George dropped the Washington name early in life, disliking the practice of linking names to famous people. Stephens was a millwright from Pennsylvania, and having given his inheritance to a married brother had come west looking for work. By the time he reached Moline the first time, he found no work so traveled back east for a time before once more returning to Moline in 1843, where he at a sawmill business on what is now Arsenal Island. When the government took control of the island, Stephens was out of work. Out of work, Swan convinced Stephens to join his new firm to head the wood department, crucial for plow building. With George Stephens in charge of the woodworking department; Friberg headed the blacksmith shop and iron work; Swan handled the business and sales; and Candee served as the accountant for the firm.

Prior to 1870 while in operation under the Candee, Swan & Co name, the company marketed the Moline Plow, a handsome plow that matched well with Moline rivals Deere & Co and Rock Island rivals Buford & Tate, sharing many of the same features. This was no surprise as Friberg was a former Deere man and the design was common and well used with each company making minor adjustments. The logo of the company was a part circle of Candee, Swan & Co. and in a flat horizontal line below it, “Moline, ILL”. Deere did not take kindly to the upstart company and in 1866, just after the company began production, Deere took them to court claiming infringement on their trademarks. The first bone of contention was that Deere used the same logo design: “Moline, ILL” under the Deere name which was in a half circle. Deere also took exception to the style of the plow, the naming of the various models and the style of the circular and pricelist in the summer if 1866. Deere’s circular had been printed dated July, but Candee, Swan & Co.’s looked almost identical even down to the font, and was dated August 1.

Although now a footnote in history, this court battle was a one of the most significant trade mark cases of its day and could have had significant impacts on many companies. Although Deere won the initial rulings and Candee, Swan & Co. was ordered to pay significant damages and refrain from using “Moline, ILL” except as part of its address; the case would ultimately be decided at the US Supreme Court in 1870. The actual depositions of the case shed a lot of light on the early days of of Deere as well as Candee, Swan & Co. Ironically, it would be a former Deere employee and a former partner of Deere who would do the most damage to Deeres case.

One of Deeres’s primary claims was that no other company had used “Moline, ILL” as part of their logo on a plow, there being no other plow manufacturers except Deere in Moline at the time. Former partner Robert N Tate gave lie to this statement as when he and Deere had moved to Moline, there were in fact two plow makers in town, and both had used a logo much like Candee, Swan & Co. and Deere’s with the words “Moline, ILL”. The written judgment of the Supreme Court gave a lot of thought to the ramifications of this ruling. Had it stood, no other company in a town could make a like product and use the towns name in their advertising if an earlier company laid claim to the towns name. This would have been significant as many large towns had multiple companies making similar products. The court also found that Deere, although it used “Moline, ILL” as part of its logo on its plows and on its circular,Deere had never actually marketed a plow under the name “Moline Plow”. Deere had also never actually applied for a trademark on the use of “Moline, ILL”, which helped the case along. As for the circulars, it had come to light that Deere had taken a copy of a Peoria based plow companies advertising to a local printer and asked them to make the Deere circular look like it. Candee, Swan & Co. had brought their circular in to the same printer a few days later and the printer simply followed the same format and type for both thinking it looked good.

The subject of the shape and look of the plow was also a part of the case, but here too Tate proved to be Candee, Swan & Co.’s star witness, pointing out where many of the parts of the Deere plow had come from:

“Mr Tate the former partner of Deere and we should judge from his testimony a man of observation some mechanical skill and well informed generally and particularly upon the subject of plows says the history of this plow goes back to 1841. A person by the name of Hitchcock commenced what he called the Diamond plow in Princeton Bureau county. Afterwards May of Galesburg manufactured a plow in shape nearly the form that is manufactured now. This is the earliest he recollects of seeing a steel mould board. The share and mould board were combined at that time and May was the first man who laid any claim to the improved steel plow. There is no improvement on the May steel plow as made in 1843 or later perhaps up to this time. The plows afterwards made at Palestine in Lee county by a person named Doan afterwards at Grand De Tour by W Denney and Deere and Andrews afterwards in Moline by Deere Tate and Gould in the fall of 1848 afterwards by Buford and Tate in 1856 the working models are all copied strictly after the May plows. While at Grand De Tour we borrowed the May plow and copied its improvements in 1847. I essentially consider May the sole constructor in form of the Western steel plow. Connected with the Moline plow there is nothing original. The beam and handle are essentially the beam and handle used by Ruggles Nourse & Mason. The cast block intended to give form to the mould board we copied from the Evans plow of Galena. The clevis we purchased as made in the east by Warner for Ruggles Nourse & Mason and others. We introduced then what we called the muley share which we copied from the Occidental, a plow brought to Moline. We applied the muley share to one plow in Moline in the spring of 1850” – excerpt from the decision by the Illinois supreme court 1870 Candee, Swan & Co vs Deere & Co

Friberg, who had been a Deere iron worker for a dozen years before becoming the foreman of the Candee, Swan & Co. iron shop testified also to a number of innovations and improvements he had added to the Deere plows and later further refinements he added to the Candee, Swan & Co. Moline plows. Friberg and his fellow defendants were adamant that their plows were in way inferior and in many cases superior to the comparable Deere offering.

Although Deere was given credit in the final judgment for having a keen eye on adopting innovations, it was found he really had no prior claim to the design of the plow and Candee, Swan & Co. need make no changes in their designs. The overwhelming victory by Candee, Swan & Co. gave them free title to make use of the Moline Plow name, and in fall of 1870 the company incorporated into the Moline Plow Company with an authorized capital of $400,000, about $300,000 of which was paid up.

There is some discrepancy as to who was president when the company incorporated. Some sources say Swan remained as president for a year or two, most others indicated local businessman Samuel W. Wheelock took over as president, although Swan remained a part of the board for a time. Wheelock had put $75,000 of his own money into the company to keep it operational after the brutal three year legal battle with Deere and is likely he was the reason for the name change and incorporation. He would eventually buy both Candee and Swans shares in the company. Stephens would stay on as vice president of the new corporation. Several other individuals became involved as stockholders in the concern, prominent among them being Captain Good, A. L. Carson and A. R. Bryant.

The new Moline Plow Company kept pace with competitors, offering a full line of products that often took first prize at competitions and fairs; rivaling any other farm implement manufacturer. By the late 1870’s the company had a full line of walking and riding plows, walking and riding cultivators, and the usual disks, harrows and other basic implements of the day.

In 1884 the Moline Plow Company introduced the Flying Dutchman 3 wheel sulky plow, which claimed to revolutionize the sulky plow business the world over. Previous to that time sulky plows had been of the two wheel variety (Moline called these horse killers after the Flying Dutchman was introduced) and so it was claimed, “all others of this design are followers of the world-famous Flying Dutchman”. Prior to 1884 the standard riding sulky had been two wheel models like the the Evans. The 2-wheel models were an improvement over the walking plow, but could have problems controlling the depth and draft. MPCo was so confident this was the design of the future they actually released a advertisement showing the horse drawn version as the modern and an electrically powered version as the future!

The choice of the name “Flying Dutchman” was an odd one, the Flying Dutchman being the name of a famous ghost ship that first appeared in the news around 1790. Legend had it the Dutch East Indies Company Man O’War the Flying Dutchman could not find a pilot during a bad storm to enter a harbor at the Cape of Good Hope and the ship was lost. Other stories attributed the curse to piracy or murder or other misdeeds, the ship and crew forever doomed to wander the seas without ever being able to enter port. Sailors ever since reported seeing the ghost ship appear around the Cape and other places during stormy weather. Sometimes, sailors claimed the Dutchman crew would hail the ship asking the crew to send messages. More often, the Dutchman only appeared as an apparition riding the stormy seas before disappearing and in later tales it was said to posses an eerie glow, a portent of doom to the unlucky crew to see her.

Although the name choice seems strange, a handful of of pieces of literature attribute the choice of name to the fear it would bring to the competitors at seeing the new Flying Dutchman plow in the fields. Certainly the plow proved popular and other companies began offering three wheel plows in the next few years which became the standard, so they may have been on to something.

The use of the ghost ship Flying Dutchman only lasted a short time and soon a new Flying Dutchman mascot appeared, a rotund jolly fellow in traditional dutch clothes, angel wings and his right hand raised holding an ear of corn as a torch lighting the way, sometimes using the slogan “We Take the Liberty of Enlightening the World”. Over the years, the Dutchman would have many different outfits and poses, but he always followed the same themes. In some of the later advertising in the late teens and 20’s when the Dutchman didn’t always make an appearance with his wings and torch, he still found a way to slip into the crowd and extol the virtues of Moline Plow products.

The sale of this plow did a great deal towards the building up of the business and making the line manufactured by the Moline Plow Company popular with the farming community. In 1886 Moline introduced its first corn planter, the Moline Champion corn combined hill drop and check row planter was bought out to great success. Planters at the time were either manually controlled by a person riding the planter (often a 2 person job, with one person driving the horses and one person planting) or by using a knotted wire a mechanism would trip each time the knot passed planting the corn.

George W. Stephens

With these two flagship implements now leading the company, Moline Plow found itself in a good place. The Flying Dutchman soon became the mascot for the entire company and was quickly used on all manner of products. Wheelock would remain as president until his death in 1891, after which G.W. Stephens was elected president. Stephens had retired as vice president in 1885 but was still well thought of and had retained his shares. Stephens immediately appointed his son George Allen Stephens and his son-in-law F.G. Allen co-managers of the company that was now valued at over $800,000 in paid up capitol.

One of the first measures Stephens took was to institute the branch house system in 1892. The first branch house was at Kansas City, Missouri. Prior to this, orders were handled all through the main factory, shipping to dealers across the nation. The branch house system set up a subsidiary company that serviced an entire territory and often made decisions on what product to carry, issued catalogs and arranged territories. These branch houses also often made deals to carry other companies products as jobbers to fill out their line with products the parent company lacked. The second branch house was at Omaha Nebraska and others soon followed in many of the major cites from coast to coast and into Canada.

In May 1902, the company made a major move, entering into the wagon trade      with an agreement with the TJ Mandt Vehicle Company of Stoughton Wisconsin. This may have been more than a simple jobbers arraignment, as the TJ Mandt Company became tightly tied to the Moline Plow Company. Its founder TJ Mandt had died earlier in the year and it seems likely Moline purchased a significant stake in the company at this time; although the Mandt Company still appeared to operate as an independent company. This would be followed in 1903 by an agreement with the Henney Buggy Company of Freeport IL to add buggy’s to the company’s transport trade. In June of 1903, the Henney Buggy Company incorporated in Moline as a subsidiary of the Moline Plow Co. Moline had already been offering the Henney Buggies through their branch houses, but now Moline had a direct stake in the company.

These two companies would be operated as independent subsidiaries until Sept 1906 when both companies were officially merged into the Moline Plow Company. At that time, they were considered both factories and branch house for the Moline Plow Company. Both companies had had a good reputation before the official merger and Moline capitalized on keeping the old names.

The Stephens family proved apt managers as the company continued to grow and expand. When in July 1902, George W. Stephens passed away; the Moline Plow Company was now considered to be valued at over $6,000,000. Georges son, George A Stephens, who had been managing the company was immediately elected president to replace his father. Son-in-law F.G. Allen became vice president and George A.’s brother C.R. Stephens became superintendent of the plant.

The next major change in the company would come in 1909 when the Monitor Drill Company of Minneapolis Minnesota would be purchased by Moline. The purchase of Monitor added a full line of drills and seeders to the company. Prior to this, a number of different seeding companies had been sold through the branch houses. The Monitor Drill Company had had its start in Horicon Wisconsin as Van Brunt & Davis. Davis and Van Brunt had split and in 1892 Davis moved to Minnesota and incorporated the Monitor Manufacturing Company. In 1908, Davis chose to retire and sold the company to the Moline Plow Company in 1909.

The last major change before the Moline Plow company officially entered the tractor age was the purchase of Adriance, Platt & Co. in 1913. Adriance was a well known and respected maker of binders and harvesting equipment in Poughkeepsie, New York that dated back to 1852. John P Adriance, his brother-in-law Samuel Platt and Samuel Sears had formed Adriance, Platt & Sears in New York City as a hardware business. They moved the company to Massachusetts in 1857 and began building mowers under the Manny mower patent, Adriance saw Lewis Millers Aultman mower being demonstrated and decided to purchase the patent. Both he and Millers mowers were named Buckeye in honor of its Ohio roots, but the design was a success. Adriance and Platt moved to Poughkeepsie, New York, while Sears maintained the hardware business and split off entirely in 1863. Lewis Millers biography claimed: “The (sales) territory was so divided that the Canton works (C. Aultman & Co.) supplied the South and part of the East, and also the foreign trade. The Akron works (Aultman, Miller & Co.) provided for the Central and Western states (while) Adriance, Platt & Co. of Poughkeepsie, New York, supplied eastern New York and the New England states.”

By 1904, Adriance, Platt & Co had also perfected the Adriance Binder, which was a rear discharge, lowdown type that eliminated elevating canvases to reduce the damage to grain and forks gently moved the grain from the tying deck to the ground butt end down. In 1913, the Moline Plow Co purchased the company and factory outright, which at the time employed around 1300 people. With the Adriance purchase, the Moline Plow Company now had a very complete line of implements and four major factories in operation. The scale of the operations were such that it was regarded as the 5th largest implement company in the world at the time. The biggest weakness in its product line was now the lack of a tractor, and like its local rivals Deere & Co and the Rock Island Plow Company, the Moline Plow Company was starting to look hard at the power farming market.

One area the company approached to keep up with the modernizing farm was the single cylinder gas engine power unit market where they began selling Alamo gas engines under the Moline “Flying Dutchman” name. The Alamo line was built in Hillsdale Michigan, and for a period the Alamo engines were only sold under other companies trade names; likely the largest seller of Alamo gas engines during this time was local rival the Rock Island Plow Company. Each company badged and tagged their engines with their own options; and while Rock Island chose a fairly drab brown, Moline matched their implement colors in red. Its unknown how much emphasis the company placed on the sale of these engines as today Alamo Molines are fairly rare.

In 1913, the Moline Plow Co. turned its eyes to the tractor business, and tested a prototype design that had been built for them by IHC. Not much is known about this tractor except that it was rejected by Moline. The Moline Plow Company, however, did begin building tractor implements in large quantities, including a specialty line of implements for the Universal Tractor Mfg Company of Columbus Ohio.

The Universal Tractor Mfg Company of Columbus Ohio had incorporated with $100,000 capital stock by TQ Pickard and CR Hedges in late November 1914. It appears Truman B. Funk; who had served as partner, manager and engineer with the Universal Tractor Company of Newcastle IN which had incorporated in January of 1913, was the engineer and main mover in the company. Funk in mid 1913 had patented a walk behind motor cultivator for the Newcastle company, but it was the June 1915 patent US1243598A that was the base of the companies tractor.

The $385 one thousand pound Universal Cultiplow was fairly simple in design and the 3.5 x 5 two cylinder engine provided about 10 hp. The engine and drive wheels were mounted in front and an articulated pivot was mounted behind the engine leading back to the controls and a rear mounted implement mounted under the operator.

Although there are surviving tractors and some advertising for the Columbus built Universal Cultiplows still existing, not a lot about these tractors is really known. There are no production records so its unknown how many were built or for how long. In November of 1915, Moline Plow Co. bought the rights and patents for the Universal Tractor Company of Columbus’s Cultiplow motor cultivator for $150,000. They did not, however, buy the company; but they did get Funk. Moline had already been providing implements built specifically for the Universal Cultiplow since it was introduced, making this a tractor the Moline Plow Co was very familiar with. It is unknown if any of the Columbus Universal Cultiplow style tractors were ever built under the Moline Plow Co name, as Moline had other plans for the patent.

An interesting side note however, is that although the Moline Plow Company had no interest in producing the original Columbus Universal, a tractor with a strikingly similar look and the Universal name but without the articulation appeared in a 1918 ad for a walk behind tractor with an almost word for word description from the old Ohio ads specs for sale by the Universal Tractor Company Inc of New York City. The walk behind tractor also used Funks Newcastle style wheels and controls. It’s unknown if these were connected, but the similarities in name and design suggest a probable connection. Another two wheeled walking tractor also likely came from the original Universal; E.R. Beeman, a former VP of Moline Plow Co, went on to build his own successful line of Beeman walk behind tractors.

On July 1st, 1916 the Moline Plow Co debuted a new articulated tractor utilizing Funks patents and Universal concept, but completely redesigned. This new model featured an Ohio built Reliable 2-cylinder 4.75 x 6 opposed engine, Dixie magneto and Holly carburetor and was now rated at 6 brake and 12 belt horsepower. This model was built solely by Moline, along with special implements for use with the tractor, such as a two-row cultivator, two-bottom plow, disc/harrows, grain drills, a corn planter and a 10-foot grain binder.

This was the Universal concept brought to fruition, a tractor to replace the horse in all aspects; including the dreaded cultivating which was something the older heavy weight tractors could not do. The operator sat on a seat far behind the engine and front drive wheels and the implement could be attached directly to the frame or towed behind a sulky much like driving a horse. Moline would advertise this as the “Original 2 –wheel tractor”. This was based on Funks original patents and it being the first tractor like it to the market.

To build the tractors, a new factory was built near the Moline/Rock Island city borders; the plant itself actually sat just across the city line in Rock Island. At the time, it was hailed as the largest tractor factory in the world due to a series of rapid expansions as orders rapidly outpaced production.

A year later a new improved model was introduced with little fanfare. Although keeping the same overall design and mostly the same appearance, the Ohio built Reliable engine was now replaced with Moline’s own version along with some other minor improvements. This would later be referred to as the Model C, but this name was not in use immediately.

The model C Universal was heavily redesigned for a July 1918 debut with a four-cylinder Root & Van Dervoort engine built in East Moline; and standard equipment now included an electric governor/speed control, starter and lights; all firsts in the tractor industry. (Funk would receive four more patents in his name for Moline as part of the project). The new 3.5×5 four cylinder engine developed 27.45 belt and 17.4 drawbar horsepower at Nebraska though it was advertised as a two plow 9-18 (in 1920 a 3 bottom plow was offered after a few changes in the design). The machine cost $1,325 in 1920, and weighed 3,380 pounds, including the concrete ballast inside the drive wheels. This ballast was added at the factory in order to lower the tractor’s center of gravity, since the machine was notorious for upsets due to the placement off center of the engine and high center of gravity for its wheel width. Another drawback was the difficulty in backing up: the hinge point between tractor and implement tended to buckle upward when the heavy front started pushing a lighter implement to the rear.

Although the production model D was the first tractor to come equipped with the electric lights and starter as standard, an option for a magneto was also available. This had become a necessity due to the use of the Remy Governor Generator System, and advanced combination of governor and generator that enabled speed to be controlled via an electric rheostat (please see the companion article covering the Remy System for a detailed explanation). As advanced as the Remy System was, it had two drawbacks. The first was the reluctance of farmers to trust anything so new and complicated (also many felt starters on tractors were not particularly manly or useful). The second was the lack of patent protections for the Remy system outside the US. To protect their design, Remy refused to allow the export of the system outside the US initially. There was however, sufficient demand from Moline for Remy to build its own separate division in Chicago for the farm industry. Although the system was marketed and installed on some automobiles, Remy dreamed of breaking into the tractor market. This met with limited success, the only other tractor using it in any numbers was the later model GMC Samson Sieve Grips; as Remy had become a subsidiary of General Motors by that time.

Remy wasn’t the only tie the Moline Plow Company had to the automotive world. G. A. Stephens had long been fascinated with the automotive world and with the help of E.T. Birdsall, who was involved with designing the Selden automobile, the concept for a Stephens automobile was introduced in the spring of 1916. Production in Freeport, Ill. at the old Henny Buggy factory that Moline had incorporated into the company a decade before; was in full swing for 1917 with the sales price as low as $1,075. The first production model carried a four-cylinder engine, but the six was standardized in the Stephens line beginning in 1917. The Continental Model 7W engine was soon replaced by overhead-valve units by Root & Vandervoort.

As part of the new-car introduction for 1917, the Stephens Motor Branch of Moline Plow announced “conservative individuality” in a touring car, for $1,385. “The Moline Plow Company is conservative, sturdy, reliable, honest,” was the sales pitch. “Fifty-two years of manufacturing experience have taught us that business longevity can be obtained only by marketing an honest product on a fair sales plan.”

For 1919, Stephens Motor Works (as it was now called) promoted its body-engineering department on the quality of coachwork derived from decades of building bodies for carriages. “Sedans and coupes are really custom built, hand fashioned and hand finished … painting consisting of 14 distinct hand operations…mirror-like surface…perfection of detail….”

All Stephens automobiles in the 1920s used the Root & Van Dervoort based six-cylinder engine with a bore and stroke of 3.25 by 4.5 inches and a 224-cubic-inch displacement. At 2,700 rpm, horsepower was rated 57, edging up to 59 after 1921 giving it a top speed of around 60 mph. Economy was around 18 to 20 miles per gallon. Early models ran on a wheelbase of 122 inches with the later versions being 117 inches.

In 1920, the R&V Company underwent drastic changes due to founder and president William H Van Dervoort’s health and major changes in the engine market. As part of the changes, the new management moved to split the R&V Company into a commercial motor division and an automobile division. The commercial motor division was soon announced to be a joint partnership with the Moline Plow Company, with each company having a 50% stake operating under the Moline Engine Company name. The Root and Van Dervoort Engineering Company would become a holding company for the R&V share of the Moline Engine Company and the new R&V Motor Company that the R&V automobile division would become. Moline Plow, in addition to tractor engines, was also one of the largest buyers of R&V engines for their Stephans automobiles. Soon after Van Dervoort’s death in 1921, Root and other shareholders and the banks began to liquidate R&V’s company assets. The Moline Plow Company, facing its own losses and rising debt, backed out of the Moline Engine Company leaving R&V the sole owners again. A deal in September of 1921 resulted in the Moline Plow Company purchasing the poppet valve engine machinery from the company in exchange for Moline Plow stock. This effectively ended the Moline Engine Company’s existence. In May 1923, R&V liquidated its Moline Plow Company stock.

Over the years of production, prices ranged up to $3,400 for the “Salient Six” as the Stephens was now called. In good years, the company made as many as 4,000 cars. Reportedly, nearly 7,000 were made in 1920, which was the companies largest year. Estimates of up to 35,000 Stephens cars being built may have been exaggerated, but it proved to be a popular car in the midwest trading on the Moline Plow name.

In 1920, the the Moline Plow Company also introduced its own truck with a 3000 lb capacity that was built in East Moline at the former Midland Auto Plant on 1st street and 14th Ave. Pneumatic cord tires were standard and it used the same engine as the Moline Universal tractor. This truck was sold under the Moline Plow name and not Stephens, as by that time G A Stephens was no longer in charge of the company.

In 1918, the Stephens family had announced the sale of the majority of their Moline Plow Company common stock to John N Willys for $150 per share and would receive stocks paying 7 cumulative preferred dividends quarterly in three companies: Willys Overland 55%, Electric Auto Lite Corp (Willys Corp) 30%, Curtiss & Motor Corp 15%. The Stephens family also arranged for the offer to be open for any holder of Moline Plow common stock to make the same exchange. The end result was Willys-Overland now had 82% of the common stock for the Moline Plow Company. Although this doesn’t appear to have changed the tractor operations significantly, it may have had an impact of the Stephens automobiles although Willys kept the Stephens separate from his own automobile corporations.

George Peek

In 1919, George N. Peek, one of the major players on the Deere board in the ultimate decision for Deere to enter the tractor business, resigned his position as vice president at Deere and took over as president of the Moline Plow Company. Peek had been a strong proponent of mechanized farming during his years at Deere, and along with Velie and Mixter had been instrumental in overcoming William Butterworths reluctance to enter the tractor market. Peek was well respected in the ag manufacturing sector and his hire attracted other talent to Moline. Despite his reputation, Peek took over the company at one of its highest points and would preside over the final decline of the company. In his later years, Peek would go on to later serve Franklin D Roosevelt as Administrator of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and then as president of the Import-Export Bank, where in both positions he clashed with other politicians in a series of brutal political fights.

At the time, it was not uncommon for semi pro and pro teams to have the name of prominent local companies as sponsors. On Oct 3 1920 The Decatur Staleys of the newly formed AFPA (what would become the NFL) played their first game at Staley Field in Decatur, Illinois on October 3, 1920 against the Moline Universal Tractors. The Staley’s won 20-0, starting off one of the oldest NFL franchises, now known as the Chicago Bears. In 2015, a group of Quad City Players formed the Quad Cities Vintage Football League and began playing a yearly game between the Moline Universal Tractors and the Rock Island Independents. Although contemporary AFPA pro teams, the teams never played against each other originally.

The 2017 Moline Universal Tractors Football team in a recreation game against the Rock Island Independents

In early April of 1922, it was announced that Willys-Overland, who at this time owned 85% of the common shares of the Moline Plow Company, had failed to pass a restructuring plan for the plow company. By mid-May it was announced the Moline Plow Company had re-incorporated in a sweeping financial overhaul that Willys-Overland had agreed to, and would result in a reduced stake by Willys-Overland. $25,000,000 in debt had been restructured into $12,500,000 of 20 year bonds and a like number of preferred stock. The $7,500,000 in original preferred stock had been converted to second preferred stock. Assets had been written down to the bare minimum according to president George N. Peak, to a barebones $16,000,000. In addition, the dealer network was consolidated with an eye towards efficiency and larger shipments. Called “The Moline Plan”, it called for fewer salesmen, larger territories, reduce small sellers, less credit and less “free” service (free meaning it was priced into the cost of the machine). By July 1922, it was announced the price of the Moline universal D was slashed; from $1325 in 1920, to $990 in 1921 to only $650 in 1922. In addition, the branch houses that had each been their own individual corporations, would now be united as one company under the name “The New Moline Plow Company”, while the main company was still the “Moline Plow Company”.

The Moline Plow Company continued to struggle in the post-war depression of the early ’20s, and stopped much of its production in 1923 including the Universal. After dropping the Universal, the company created a subsidiary in 1923 called the Moline Implement Co that took control of the Moline properties and business. In December 1925, the original Moline Plow Company officially dissolved and its assets were merged into the Moline Implement Company. In 1926, the International Harvester Corporation purchased the now defunct tractor plant, where it began producing Farmall tractors. This would be the IHC Rock Island Farmall works, which continued to produce tractors until May 1985 and the plant would officially close in June of 1986.

After several years of declining sales, a merger was worked out with Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota (makers of the Twin City tractors which became the basis of the new company’s tractors) and the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company of Hopkins, Minnesota (Another former tractor company that had also built the Minneapolis line of steam engines and threshing machines). This merger, in March 1929, resulted in the Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Company, which was once again a full line company merging all three product lines. Alone, none of the companies had still manufactured a complete line, although all had at one time built tractors.  Minneapolis-Moline went on to become one of the major farm equipment companies in the country; producing a full line of machinery until being bought by the White Motor Company in 1963.

Today, virtually nothing is left of the tractor plant or of the original Moline Plow factory. A surprising number of Moline Universals exist in collections today and Sept 13-15, 2019 at the Geneseo IL AE&TA show we expect to have the largest assembly of Universals, cars, implements and artifacts since they were were new on display. We intend to demonstrate plowing and other implements including the possibility of a Universal mounted grain binder as well as the implement swap system for the Universal. We hope to have all models represented including a model E which was to have become Molines road maintenance tractor, but never entered large scale production and the Moline Universal D orchard which featured a lower stance and low profile radiator. For more info on the show visit our website at or call Thomas Schasney ( or (812) 593-0336. Thomas is also working on a serial and casting numbers database as part of the show to help identify and date Universals. If you are willing to share information on your Universal, even if it doesn’t have its tag, we would appreciate hearing from you.