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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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John Deere Dubuque Works has been one of Dubuque's major employers. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Airport at the Dubuque John Deere Works. Photo courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/ykyguidiiyr/

JOHN DEERE DUBUQUE WORKS. The need for a new factory to make tractors became apparent to Deere and Company in 1943. The public announcement concerning the "Dubuque Program" was made on December 31, 1944.

On February 7, 1945, the company announced that it had selected a site for the facility three miles north of Dubuque in an area known as the "Peru Bottoms." Among the reasons for choosing Dubuque was the city's proximity to other Deere plants in Moline, Waterloo, and Ottumwa and because of the excellent transportation facilities. Seven hundred and forty-two acres of land were purchased. On June 25, 1945, ground was broken for a 600,000 square foot facility. This was the first tractor factory that Deere constructed from the ground up. Training for the first Dubuque employees was done by workers from the Moline plant in the old round house in East Dubuque. The Dubuque plant opened in May, 1946. (1)

Several unions including the FE-CIO (United Farm Equipment Workers), the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the United Auto Workers (UAW) sent organizing representatives to the plant. In 1947 the workers voted for the FE-CIO to be their agent in collective bargaining. Instrumental in bringing the union to the plant was Emil PLOESSEL.

On March 12, 1947 the first Dubuque tractor, the Model "M" rolled off the assembly line. (2) In addition to the Model "M," three other versions of this tractor, the "MC," "MI," and "MT" were also available. The same year, workers voted to organize the factory's first labor union, the FE-CIO. Unable to ratify the first contract with Deere & Co., 1,200 maintenance and production workers went on strike for two weeks in June 1947. By June 1948, hourly employees voted to have the UAW-CIO as their bargaining unit. In reaction to an early housing shortage in Dubuque, Deere built 111 brick housing units in the city north of Hillcrest and parallel to Chaney Road.

Demand remained steady, and over 87,000 units were produced by 1952. An improved version of the Model "M," the "A" series, was introduced in 1952. Although short-lived with production lasting only a new months, this series was the last "lettered tractors" produced in Dubuque. Plant expansion was made in 1948-1949 and again in 1950 with government contracts for the KOREAN CONFLICT. In September 1950 employees were involved in their first long strike, 112 days.

Belt buckle.

Customers' demands for a tractor providing more power, comfort, and a three point hitch led to the development of Dubuque's next tractor, the 40 series. The first "numbered" tractors produced at the Dubuque Works, the 40 series was available in seven different models. A total of nearly 49,000 tractors of this series were produced in its two year existence.

Production of the 420s began on October 27, 1955; a smaller version, the 320, began production approximately nine months later. The notable innovation of this series was a Direction Reverser, which allowed forward/reverse movement in any gear. The Direction Reverser, an option on seven of the eight 420 models produced, was particularly popular on the 420 crawler as it became the sales leader for this series, selling 17,882 of the 47,450 units produced. The 320 series sold considerably fewer units (3,084 in two years) than the 420s, but it satisfied many customers' demands for a less powerful and less expensive tractor. The success of the 420 crawler was important in bringing John Deere closer to becoming a major participant in the industrial market.

Separate records for industrial sales were kept for the first time in 1956; in that year over $11 million worth of machines intended for construction, public works or forestry were sold. Industrial equipment was no longer an off-shoot of farm machinery, but a separate entity with sales records to show its progress. The John Deere Company made this commitment official in 1958, when the John Deere Industrial Division was established. In addition to separate sales records, a marketing organization and an engineering department were created strictly for industrial products. The Dubuque Works became the primary producer of the Company's industrial machinery as well as continuing to produce a variety of agricultural machines. The Moline Industrial Equipment Works assisted Dubuque in this work by producing backhoes, loaders, side booms, blades and other equipment for the vehicles made in Dubuque.

Advertising clock.

In 1958, the Dubuque Works began production of the 330, 430, and 440 series of equipment. In 1959, the 435 was added to the product line. For Dubuque, the 440 series would be the most significant. The 440s success put John Deere in the industrial market to stay as sales for the 1958-1959 period doubled. By 1958, the original factory size had nearly tripled to over one million square feet, and employment was now over 2,200 people.

Employee ID badge

For the Dubuque Works, 1960 would be a very significant year. Production of the 440, 430, 330 and 435 ceased, marking the end of the two-cylinder engine era. The "New Generation of Power" (four and six cylinder) engines were introduced, and John Deere expanded into the industrial equipment market. The next twenty years produced phenomenal growth for the Dubuque Works. It included the 1010, 2010, 3010, and 4010 wheel tractors and the 1010 and 2010 crawlers. High demand for these units helped to produce over $93 million in sales in 1964. Production of these units required the Dubuque facilities to expand to over 1,165,000 square feet and employment rose to 3,800 people. Growth continued as the company identified six major industrial product fields for development: 1) crawler tractors, 2) wheeled tractors, 3) self-propelled elevating scrapers, 4) four-wheel drive skidders, 5) articulated motor graders, and 6) four-wheel drive articulated loaders. To aid in the engineering of this equipment, construction of the Product Engineering Center (PEC), a new engineering building containing about 96,000 square feet, would be constructed to improve the company's position in the industrial tractor business.

Following the announcement of the PEC, company officials announced two new addition of about 250,000 square feet of floor area to the Dubuque Works. Employment was not to be significantly expanded because the new floor space was to relieve congested manufacturing areas. In addition, a new uard house and fire station were to be constructed at a new entrance to the plant.

During the mid to-late 1960s, four new products, a new identification system, and a new concept were developed at the Dubuque Works. In 1965, a four-wheel drive skidder (JD440) was introduced along with a new identification system. The letters "JD" plus three digits identified all industrial equipment. The numbering system was modified slightly in 1980 when the "JD" was dropped, but the three digit numbering system continued to identify industrial equipment. In addition to these new units, product development efforts also introduced a totally new line of machines to replace the "1010" through "5010" wheel models and the "1010" and "2010" crawlers. These new units included the JD300, JD400, JD500, JD600, JD700-A and JD760 wheeled tractors and the JD350 and JD450 crawler/dozer.


No longer would wheel and crawler tractors be considered vehicles on which attachments could be mounted for pushing, pulling, or handling material. They would now be thought of as distinct lines of machines: backhoes, utility tractors and loaders, and forklifts. This distinction gave customers (and the manufacturer) the opportunity to "customize" a unit to specific needs. This concept was used on all products that followed the 1965 models, making these units very attractive to potential customers. The first articulated motor graders (JD570) in the industry were introduced in 1967, followed by a four-wheel drive articulated loader a year later. The JD760A self-propelled scraper (1969) was the last of the new products introduced during the 1960s; it replaced the Waterloo-built 5010 and 860 scrapers. Sales during the 1960s improved to $196 million which was five times higher than at the start of the decade. Plant size during the period doubled to 2,300,000 square feet.

From 1947-1957 employment at the Dubuque plant remained at 1,700. It reached 3,600 by 1967 representing 9% of the workforce in Dubuque. The production and number of employees continued to grow through the 1960s into the late 1970s. (3)

In 1969 the Dubuque Works became a primary industrial factory with a resulting major expansion in the local facilities. This included the construction of a 377,870-square-foot manufacturing building. This was to be used for the manufacture of Deere's expanding line of industrial and construction equipment. Other projects included a 40,000-square-foot test building, a field test shop of 13,000 square feet and a 45,000-square-foot shipping building. In addition, construction involved the remodeling of 11,000 square feet of office space. When all was completed, the Deere plant in Dubuque would cover approximately 70 acres under roofs. (4)

The Industrial Equipment Works in Moline became a division of the Dubuque Works and the design of most industrial products was consolidated at Dubuque. Floor space increased again as W-1 and W-2 buildings were added to the Dubuque facility. Growth continued in the 1970s as new models were designed for the industrial product line and marketing went global.

Belt buckle showing the importance of the forestry line of machinery.

The decade of the 1970s produced both record sales and growth for the Industrial Division. For the Dubuque Works, this resulted in unprecedented growth of both the factory and its workforce. In 1971 the Industrial Equipment Works of Moline closed, and a large portion of the industrial production from this plant was transferred to Dubuque. By 1972, 85% of the products shipped from the Dubuque plant were for industrial use with the rest destined for agriculture. (5) In 1973 the name of the plant became the John Deere Dubuque Works. (6) In 1974, ERAIII would premier with a plan to introduce larger forestry and construction machinery into the industrial market. ERAIII introductions included the JD740 four-wheel drive skidder and the JD743 three harvester. Large construction equipment included the JD672, 772, 672A, and 772A motor graders, the JD844 four-wheel drive loader, the JD850/855 and the JD750/755 construction crawlers.

To aid in the production of such a large product line, the Davenport Works opened in 1974. By the end of the decade, over six models of equipment were being manufactured by Dubuque and Davenport. World-wide marketing of this diverse product line pushed industrial sales to a record $996.8 million in 1979. By 1980, the original floor space in Dubuque had expanded nearly eight times to 5,250,000 square feet, making the plant over one mile long and large enough to cover 110 football fields. Employment increased 12.5 times over the thirty-two year period to 8,270 people.

In 1979 it was announced that the area-wide commuter bus service employed at the Deere plant would also be available to non-Deere workers at a cost between $1.48 to $3.78 daily. Specifics of the pilot program for people living in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin were explained by the deputy director of the Iowa Department of Transportation public transit division on November 20, 1979. Three private bus companies made proposals: (7)

     A & A Bus Line of Charles City, Iowa suggested
            1. One route starting in Colesburg and proceeding through
               Luxemburg, Holy Cross and Durango
            2. One route starting in Dyersville and including Farley,
               Epworth, and Peosta
            3. One route beginning in Cascade and coming close to
            4. One route starting in Maquoketa to include Zwingle
            5. One route beginning in Bellevue including St.
            Fares would range from $32 to $40 with school-bus type
            transportation driven by Deere employees
     Warco Transportation Company of Cassville, Wisconsin
            1. Routes beginning in Bloomington, Cassville, and
            2. Service to include Potosi, Lancaster and possibly
               Dickeyvuille, Kieler, and East Dubuque depending
               on available seating
            3. Fares from $72 to $82 monthly        
      Guttenberg, Iowa Coach Lines
            1. Guttenberg to include Millville, Luxemburg, Holy
               Cross and Durango depending upon available seats
            2. Fares from $45 to $50 monthly

To judge interest, Deere mailed out 4,000 surveys. Of the 3,200 returned, more than 90% expressed an interest in the bus service. (8)

The "golden era" of the 1970s ran into problems in the 1980s. A world-wide economic recession, high interest rates, and a dramatic drop in construction projects led to a decrease in demand for industrial equipment. In 1980 employment at the Dubuque plant peaked with 8,270 workers. Lay-offs, a result of bad economic times, and company-encouraged early retirements resulted in employment falling drastically to around three thousand in 1990. For the Dubuque Works, this led to the loss of the Industrial Training Center in 1981, the production of the last agricultural tractors in Dubuque in 1983, and the closing of the foundry in May 1987 with its work and employees transferred to Waterloo. (9) In addition, the facility lost over half of its workforce to lower production schedules. Sales fluctuated during the late 1980s and early 1990s as the Dubuque Works restructured its operations. One of the strategies was identifying its core competencies, the areas in which it did its best work. These were found to be plate fabrication, welding, machining, assembly and paint. The other jobs were out-sourced to other companies. (10)

A 5 1/2 month strike, the longest in the history of the United Auto Workers dealing with Deere and Company ended in 1987. (11)

The foundry of John Deere in Dubuque was one of the few that was financially successful. Just before it was closed in 1987 , a "Last Melt" plate was created and sold. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

In 1992 the Dubuque Works was one of the first two manufacturing operations in the company to be registered ISO 9001 and the first of two U. S. Manufacturing operations to be registered to its Japanese equivalent.

With expanded product lines, factory space increased so that by 1990 the Dubuque Works stretched over 1,465 acres, an area large enough to cover 110 football fields. Products include backhoe loaders, hydrostatic crawlers, log skidders, two-wheel-drive utility tractors, and utility and construction crawler loaders and dozers.

The strategy for the 1990s revolved around continuous improvement initiatives and profitable growth. The basic idea of continuous improvement involved the concept that any product or process can be improved by those who produce it. To accomplish this concept, a great emphasis was placed on New Approach, a concept of having teams of salary and wage employees work collectively towards a common goal. (12) Teams were created around the three core areas of production at the Dubuque Works: 1) backhoes, 2) crawlers, and 3) engines. To promote teamwork, the interior of the factory was remodeled into a module design which consolidated all the operations that were involved in production of a unit into one area. Although the mile-long exterior facade of the plant still existed, modules revolutionized the interior appearance of the factory.

In 1993 the Dubuque Works made a profit for the first time in thirteen years. (13) In 1995 the plant set a record in the construction industry by achieving 3,626,215 working hours without a lost-time injury. (14)

In 1996 nearly 2,400 employees were involved in the production of backhoes, engines, small crawlers (under 100 horsepower), and large crawlers (over 100 horsepower). An assembly line production winches was also in operation.

Belt buckle showing a Deere Company dozer

In 1997, as the John Deere Dubuque Works marked fifty years of manufacturing, the Company had firmly established itself as a world-class competitor and market leader of industrial equipment.

Local officials of the company announced in April 1998 that employees would soon have the opportunity of having their own fitness center. Similar to centers in Waterloo, Ottumwa, and the Quad Cities, the Dubuque center would offer an indoor track, cardiovascular machines, a basketball court, weight machines, locker rooms and showers. The cost would be $120 annually. The center, open 24 hours daily, was also open to employees' spouses and retirees although fees had not yet been established. (15)

In 2002 the Skid Steer Loader Operations was moved to the Dubuque Works, the first line introduced at the plant in a generation. The long-standing engine division, however, was shut down.

In 2006 Deere announced that the company's forestry production operations would be moved to Dubuque from Canada.By becoming the engineering center for forestry products, the Dubuque Works added more than one hundred jobs. This would include seventy salaried positions in engineering, research and development, and product testing as well as thirty-five hourly jobs to staff the production lines. (16)

The Dubuque plant is headquarters for the John Deere Industrial Equipment Division's Dealer Technical Assistance Center. A technical service for dealers, DTAC is staffed by specialists with years of factory and field experience to provide dealers with prompt answers to customers' questions.

At a time when other plants struggled, the Dubuque Works production of the 1050K Crawler Dozer and two new series of Tracked Feller Bunchers/Harvesters used to harvest trees led to the addition of one hundred employees in late 2014 and early 2015. Employment at the Dubuque plant reached an estimated 2,500 with 200 contracted employees. (17)

In 2018 Deere & Company donated a 137-acre parcel near its Dubuque plant for to the county for a park. The land, once used by the company to test its equipment, was aptly named Proving Grounds Recreation Area in 2019. Work began immediately on a paved parking area, bathrooms, and a pavilion. (18)

Completion of eight to ten miles of mountain-biking trails was expected to start early in 2020. The park would give the county its third mountain-biking trail. The trails could also be used for walking or hiking. A local club offered plans for a disc golf course and the park was open to bow hunters during appropriate seasons. (19)

Many products of the Dubuque Works were celebrated with the creation of belt buckles. These include the following:




John Deere information materials for specific information on models and production

1. Bergstrom, Kathy. "Fifty Years for Deere in Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, July 20, 1997, p. 1. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19970720&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Hogstrom, Erik, "John Deere Dubuque Works Launches 'Vast Expansion' 50 Years Ago," Telegraph Herald, December 20, 2019, p. 5A

5. Bergstrom

6. Ibid., p. 6A

7. Gatch, Calvin. "Bus Network Open to Deere, Non-Deere Workers," Telegraph Herald, November 20, 1979, p. 4

8. Ibid.

9. Bergstrom

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Nevans-Pederson, Mary. "Deere to Construct Plant Fitness Center," Telegraph Herald, April 4, 1998, p. 3A. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19980404&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

16. Kittle, M. D., "Deere Plant Adds Forestry Division," Telegraph Herald, January 27, 2006, p. 1A

17. Montgomery, Jeff. "Deere Runs Strong in Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, February 13, 2015, p. 1

18. Yager, Alicia, "Work Continues on County Park," Telegraph Herald, January 4, 2019, p. 3AQ

19. Hinga, Allie, "Proving Grounds Featuring Rare Plants, Animals," Telegraph Herald, July 25, 2019, p. 3A

175 Years, Volume Three, Telegraph Herald, September 15, 2008