Deere was born in Rutland, Vermont on February 7, 1804, the son of William Rinold Deere, a tailor, and Sarah Yates (1780-1826). William Deere disappeared on the way to England in 1808 when a young John Deere was only four, where he was seeking a possible inheritance. John Deere received a basic education from the local common school and briefly attended Middlebury College before dropping out. With no inheritance and a meager education, he was apprenticed in 1821, at age 17, by his mother. He served four years as apprentice to Captain Benjamin Lawrence, a prosperous Middlebury blacksmith, and entered the trade for himself in 1825.
He married Demarius Lamb, and by 1836 the couple had four children, with a fifth child on the way. The business was not doing very well, and Deere was having trouble with his creditors. Facing bankruptcy, Deere sold the shop to his father-in-law and departed for Illinois. He left his wife and family, who were to join him later.
There are varying versions of the inspiration for Deere's famous invention, the steel plow. In another version he recalled the way the polished steel pitchfork tines moved through hay and soil and thought that same effect could be obtained for a plow.
In 1837, Deere developed and manufactured the first commercially successful cast-steel plow. The wrought-iron framed plow had a polished steel share, which made it ideal for the tough soil of the Midwest and worked better than other plows. By early 1838, Deere completed his first steel plow and sold it to a local farmer, Lewis Crandall, who quickly spread word of his success with Deere's plow. So two neighbors soon placed orders with Deere. Confident that he had some stability, Deere moved his family to Grand Detour later that year.
By 1841, Deere was manufacturing 75-100 plows per year.
In 1843, Deere partnered with Leonard Andrus to produce more plows to keep up with demand. However, the partnership became strained due to the two men's stubbornness - while Deere wished to sell to customers outside Grand Detour, Andrus opposed a proposed railroad through Grand Detour - and Deere's distrust of Andrus' accounting practices. In 1848, Deere dissolved the partnership with Andrus and moved to Moline, Illinois, because of the city's location on the Mississippi River, which helped make it a transportation hub. By 1855, Deere's factory sold more than 10,000 such plows.
From the beginning, Deere insisted on making high-quality equipment. He once said, "I will never put my name on a product that does not have in it the best that is in me." As the business improved, Deere left the day-to-day operations to his son Charles. In 1868, Deere incorporated his business as Deere & Company.
The company Deere founded lived on after his death and has become the world's leading provider of advanced products and services for agriculture and forestry and a major provider of advanced products and services for construction, lawn and turf care, landscaping and irrigation.