A Quick Look at the Life of William Butterworth

An old photo of William Butterworth.

A Quick Biography of William Butterworth
Key Points and Facts
Timeline
Life Lessons
Questions and Answers
Featured Video

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William Butterworth: A Visionary Leader in Agricultural Progress

Early Life and Entry into Deere & Company

William Butterworth, whose life and career intertwined with the growth of Deere & Company, was a notable figure in the agricultural industry. Born into an era of innovation, Butterworth’s journey began with marrying Katherine Deere, daughter of the esteemed John Deere, in 1892.

That same year, he embarked on his career at Deere & Company, starting as an assistant buyer. His education, a testament to his intellect and foresight, included a degree from Lehigh University and a law degree from the National University Law School in Washington.

Rising Through the Ranks

His election marked Butterworth’s ascent in the company as treasurer in 1897. A decade later, he stepped into the role of president following Charles Deere’s passing, a position he held with distinction until 1928.

His leadership further expanded as he became the first chairman of the board of Deere & Company in 1928, demonstrating his unmatched capability in guiding the company through transformative years.

Innovations and Expansions

Under Butterworth’s leadership, Deere & Company witnessed significant growth and innovation. In 1910, he oversaw a major reorganization, unifying multiple factories and sales organizations.

He also spearheaded the company’s expansion into the combine harvester market in 1912 and played a pivotal role in acquiring the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company in 1918.

This acquisition marked Deere’s foray into the tractor market with the Waterloo Boy tractor, a significant milestone in the company’s history.

Moreover, Butterworth introduced a non-contributory employee pension system in 1907, showcasing his commitment to workforce welfare.

Deere & Company’s Mission and Vision

Founded in 1837, Deere & Company, under Butterworth’s stewardship, remained committed to delivering advanced products and services for those working with the land.

This mission, rooted in the company’s inception, was consistently upheld and expanded upon during Butterworth’s tenure.

Challenges and Triumphs in Tractor Development

Butterworth’s role in Deere’s tractor development was marked by initial opposition, stemming from his concern for financial prudence and the company’s stability.

Despite these reservations, he sanctioned substantial investment in tractor R&D, eventually leading to the pivotal acquisition of the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company.

This move signified a major shift in the company’s approach to the tractor market.

Legacy and Impact

William Butterworth’s tenure coincided with a transformative period in the U.S. tractor market. By 1935, general-purpose models, like the GP released in 1928, dominated sales.

Beyond his contributions to Deere & Company, Butterworth became president of the United States Chamber of Commerce.

His leadership and strategic decisions during his time at Deere & Company and beyond left an indelible impact on the agricultural industry.

John Deere’s Foundation and Influence

Understanding Butterworth’s achievements also requires acknowledging the legacy of John Deere, the company’s founder.

Deere, born in 1804, established himself as a skilled blacksmith in Grand Detour, Illinois, where he invented the first commercially successful steel plow.

The company’s move to Moline, Illinois, under Deere’s guidance, set the stage for its exponential growth and the eventual incorporation of Deere & Company in 1868.

Continuing the Legacy

The Deere family’s involvement continued with Charles Deere and later with William Butterworth and Charles Deere Wiman, ensuring the company’s adherence to its founding principles.

Katherine Deere Butterworth played a significant role in preserving the company’s history by initiating the restoration of the original property in Grand Detour.

Today’s John Deere

John Deere operates over 100 factories in more than 30 countries, continuing its legacy as a leader in the agricultural equipment industry.

The company’s enduring commitment to innovation and its workforce remains a testament to the foundations laid by John Deere and the vision expanded by leaders like William Butterworth.

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William Butterworth: Key Points and Facts

Background and Early Career

  • Married Katherine Deere in 1892.
  • Joined Deere & Company as an assistant buyer in the same year.
  • Education included a graduation from Lehigh University and a law degree from National University Law School in Washington.

Career Progression at Deere & Company

  • Elected treasurer of Deere & Company in 1897.
  • Became president of Deere & Company in 1907, after Charles Deere’s death, holding this position until 1928.
  • Appointed as the first chairman of the board of Deere & Company in 1928, a role he maintained until 1936.
  • Elected president of the United States Chamber of Commerce in 1927, and re-elected three more times.

Significant Developments at Deere & Company

  • Oversaw a major reorganization in 1910, integrating 11 factories and 25 sales organizations.
  • Expanded into the combine harvester market in 1912.
  • Led the acquisition of the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company in 1918, introducing the Waterloo Boy tractor and marking Deere’s entry into the tractor market.
  • Introduced a non-contributory pension system for employees in 1907.

Deere & Company’s Evolution

  • Founded in 1837, focusing on agriculture and infrastructure products and services.
  • Dedicated to advancing products and services for those working with the land.

Timeline of Butterworth’s Life

  • 1892: Marriage to Katherine Deere and joining Deere & Company.
  • 1897: Became treasurer of Deere & Company.
  • 1907-1928: Served as president of Deere & Company.
  • 1928-1936: Chairman of the board of Deere & Company.
  • 1927-1936: Held the presidency of the United States Chamber of Commerce.
  • 1936: Passed away.

Deere’s Tractor Development and Butterworth’s Role

  • Tractor development began in 1912.
  • Butterworth initially opposed the company’s entry into the tractor business, concerned about financial stability and cost-effectiveness.
  • Despite initial reluctance, Butterworth authorized significant investment in tractor R&D.
  • Approved construction of up to one hundred All-Wheel Drive tractors.
  • Played a crucial role in acquiring the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company in 1918.

Butterworth’s Legacy

  • The release of the general-purpose tractor, the GP, in 1928.
  • During his tenure, 75% of all tractors sold by 1935 were general-purpose models.
  • Served as president of the United States Chamber of Commerce after leaving Deere & Company.

John Deere’s Legacy and Family Involvement

  • John Deere, born in 1804, was a blacksmith who invented the first successful steel plow.
  • Moved his business to Moline, Illinois, in 1848, where the company grew significantly.
  • Charles Deere, John’s son, and later family members like William Butterworth and Charles Deere Wiman continued to lead the company.
  • Katherine Deere Butterworth, John Deere’s granddaughter, restored the original property in Grand Detour.

John Deere Company Today

  • Operates over 100 factories in more than 30 countries.
  • Recently faced a worker strike involving over 10,000 employees at 14 plants.

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Timeline
William Butterworth

William Butterworth: A Timeline of Achievement

1892

  • William Butterworth marries Katherine Deere.
  • Begins his career at Deere & Company as an assistant buyer.

1897

  • Elected as treasurer of Deere & Company.

1907

  • Becomes president of Deere & Company, following the death of Charles Deere. He would hold this position until 1928.

1907

  • Introduces a non-contributory pension system for Deere & Company employees.

1910

  • Oversees a significant reorganization, bringing together 11 factories and 25 sales organizations.

1912

  • Deere & Company expands into the combine harvester market.
  • The tractor development program at Deere begins.

1913-1914

  • The Bull tractor, a small and inexpensive model, is introduced but ultimately fails.

1918

  • Acquires the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company, marking Deere’s entry into the tractor market with the Waterloo Boy tractor.
  • Approves construction of up to one hundred All-Wheel Drive tractors.

1927

  • Elected president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, a position he was re-elected to three more times.

1928

  • Appointed as the first chairman of the board of Deere & Company, a role he held until 1936.
  • The general-purpose tractor, the GP, is released.

1935

  • By this year, 75% of all tractors sold in the U.S. were general-purpose models.

1936

  • William Butterworth passes away.

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Lessons from William Butterworth’s Life

Embrace Change and Innovation

William Butterworth’s life teaches us the importance of embracing change and innovation. When he joined Deere & Company, it was primarily known for its plows.

However, under his leadership, the company expanded into the combine harvester market in 1912 and entered the tractor business in 1918 with the acquisition of the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company.

This shift was a significant change from the company’s original focus but proved to be a visionary move. It shows that openness to new ideas and industries can lead to growth and success.

The Value of Financial Prudence

Initially, Butterworth was hesitant about Deere & Company entering the tractor business, mainly due to financial concerns.

He understood the importance of financial stability and was careful about investing that could risk the company’s future.

This caution led him to focus on maintaining substantial cash reserves, which helped the company navigate economic fluctuations.

His approach teaches us the importance of being financially prudent and planning for the long term, especially in business.

Leadership and Adaptability

As Deere & Company’s third president, Butterworth demonstrated significant leadership qualities.

Despite opposition to the tractor business, he adapted his stance and eventually sanctioned substantial investment in tractor research and development.

This change of heart wasn’t a sign of weakness but an example of adaptability and responsive leadership. He listened, learned, and made decisions that would benefit the company in the long run.

Butterworth’s leadership reminds us that good leaders are flexible and willing to adjust their strategies for success.

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Frequently Asked Questions About William Butterworth

Who was William Butterworth?

William Butterworth was an influential figure in the history of Deere & Company. He joined the company in 1892 and significantly contributed to its growth and expansion in the agricultural industry.

What is William Butterworth known for in his career at Deere & Company?

Butterworth is recognized for several key developments at Deere & Company. He oversaw a significant reorganization in 1910, expanded into the combine harvester market in 1912, and was instrumental in Deere’s entry into the tractor market in 1918 with the acquisition of the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company.

When did William Butterworth join Deere & Company?

He joined Deere & Company in 1892 as an assistant buyer, the same year he married Katherine Deere.

What were some significant positions held by William Butterworth at Deere & Company?

He was elected treasurer in 1897, became president in 1907, and was appointed as the first chairman of the board in 1928. He held the chairman position until 1936.

Did William Butterworth have any other notable roles outside Deere & Company?

Yes, he was elected president of the United States Chamber of Commerce in 1927 and was re-elected three times.

What was Butterworth’s educational background?

He graduated from Lehigh University and obtained a law degree from the National University Law School in Washington.

What was a notable initiative introduced by Butterworth for Deere & Company employees?

In 1907, he introduced a non-contributory pension system for the employees, showcasing his commitment to workforce welfare.

What was William Butterworth’s stance on Deere entering the tractor business?

Initially, Butterworth opposed Deere’s entry into the tractor business, mainly due to financial concerns and doubts about the effectiveness of tractors as a replacement for horses on farms.

How did Butterworth’s stance on tractors change over time?

Despite his initial opposition, he eventually sanctioned substantial investment in tractor R&D and approved the construction of up to one hundred All-Wheel Drive tractors.

When did William Butterworth pass away?

William Butterworth passed away in 1936, leaving a legacy of strategic leadership and innovation at Deere & Company.

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References:

John Deere past leaders – William Butterworth biography

Did William Butterworth Oppose John Deere’s First Tractor? – Neil Dahlstrom

John Deere Company – Where and how it all began