They Made More Than Tractors


   In the agricultural world, John Deere and International Harvester are common names. To most folks/ these names relate to manufacturing tractors and farm implements. Nevertheless, they made more than tractors; they made pitching style horseshoes too.

   Both companies were involved with horseshoe pitching in the early 1920's. International Harvester is thought to have produced shoes only for promotional purposes. Due to the lack of documentation and any known ads etc., much is left to speculation. There has been extensive research done but without turning up any concrete information. There are national collecorr clubs of International Harvester memorabilia, and their leaders were totally unaware of horseshoe manufactured by I.H.

   During the 1920's, horseshoe tournaments were commonplace at rural gatherings as countywide picnics. The Farm Bureau was a major host at these events and a great supporter of the sport of horseshoe pitching. No dougt, International Harvester produced regulation shoes for some of the contests to gain advertising. There have been just two finds of early-day International Harvester shoes. First, a lone shoe which is an early 1920's issue, rather round shaped, deep and heavy calks, but most importantly, a I.H. insignia. The shoe is for sure a regulation shoe, and has a number '2' on one point to prove it. The other find is a full set of 1930's bookless shoes that have the I.H. insignia and as a brand name - Harvester Club. Because more finds are not coming forward, it can be surmised that International Market never ventured into the retail market, but for sure did make some pitching horseshoes.

   There is one other I.H. shoe to report that certainly is a promotional shoe. An International Harvester plant in Waukesha, WI produced a shoe as a farewell token to a retiring employee. The shoe is a modern-day hooked picnic model, probably patterned after the Pro-Shot shoes, also a Wisconsin based shoe. The shoe has a GOOD LUCK ED across the toe, the I.H. insignia on each point and under the toe calk, Waukesha Plant. There is no evidence of that plant producing any other shoes either for employee use or promotion purposes.

   John Deere is another story however, or at least there is some story to tell about. There has been knowledge of a modern-day John Deere all along. In fact, St. Pierre has recently produced John Deere shoes out of the American mold. There has been one shoe found manufactured out of a John Deere plant and dated 1969. That shoe is a gem and bears the John Deere deer logo and all.

   No older bookless shoes had ever been found, but the questions and suspicions were always present. A contact to the John Deer History center in Moline, IL solved the issue in a very surprising fashion. There are many UMICO shoes in collection across the country. The shoes are so unique with heavy calks and they just look old. What we never suspected was that United Malleable Iron Company (maker of UMICO shoes) was a foundry owned by John Deere. The John Deere history archives produced a copy of an UMICO rules Brochure with a cover picture of shoes and dated 1922. The stakes 8 inches high in those days. Also a photocopy dated 1922 showing three distinct models of UMICO shoes. While they are rare, it is a known fact that UMICO, or should we say John Deere, made junior shoes that are the spitting image of the full sized models - just smaller at 1 1/2 pounds.
   From the archives also was a memo dated 1921. "The plant has been making malleable horseshoes during the past year and a very substantial volume has been developed. These shoes are being sold in all parts of the country and have been met with a very favorable reception. It is hoped that this feature will develop to the extent of making it profitable for the malleable factory."

   Who knows today how successful it may have been? We do know there is evidence that the shoes existed. What is significant in the memo is that - John Deere, through one of its subsidiaries entered into the sport of horseshoe pitching at the very beginning, when National Standard and Ohio were in their own infancy and initial production.

   No doubt, not as successfully as the tractor and implement business, but these two companies did make pitching shoes too.