John Deere Tractor Toys – How Toys Sold The Real Thing

John Deere Loader

John Deere is arguably the most iconic farm equipment in the world. Even if you have never stepped foot on a farm, most likely you recognize the jumping deer logo. You can not venture far without seeing some kind of merchandise, ranging from hats to boots, from seat covers to toys, John Deere is everywhere.

How did they get so large? There are a few reasons and one of the biggest reasons is tractor toys. Yeah you read that right, those toys that left many of our knees red with rug burn, is a huge reason why they are so successful today. Let’s take a look at how toys sold the real thing.

John Deere Beginnings

First, lets take a brief look at the origins of the company. John Deere was a successful blacksmith in his home state of Vermont. He was very successful and was praised for his ingenuity. Unfortunately the future didn’t look too bright for a blacksmith in his home state. It is for this reason that Deere pick up his things and moved to Grand Detour, Illinois.

It was this location that many of his fellow Vermonters had settled there. They found that the soil was very fertile and farming started to take off, but there was one thing holding farmers back and that was the soil.

Yes, the soil was fertile, but it was also hard. The plows that the farmers brought from Vermont, where the soil was soft and sandy, did not work very well in the hard clay soil of Illinois. The clay would stick to their plow blades, requiring them to be cleaned every few feet. Mr. Deere saw this and decided that instead of cast-iron plows they needed a highly polished metal and shaped just right that the plow would clean itself as it turned the dirt over.

In 1837, he finally came up with a design, and used the steel from a saw blade to make his first plow. Then he brought the plow to a local farmer and tested the plow. It worked perfectly.

Deere saw that a demand for his new plow would rise quickly, so he started to build his newly named “self-polishers” in large quantities and traveled around the country side selling them.

John Deere was always looking for ways to improve his product, much of his time and money was spent on research and development. He was never satisfied, he always saw room for improvement. As a result, farmers grow to trust and become fiercely loyal.

In 1868 John Deere incorporated his business under the name Deere & Company. From here they would go on to become the leader in farm implements.

The First Tractor and Great Depession

Now lets jump ahead to 1918. At this time Deere & Company has bought out several other farm implements businesses and they just purchased Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company. John Deere was finally in the tractor business. From this point they would go on to build high quality tractors.

Then in 1929 the great depression started, Deere & Company cut back on workers and the people they didn’t lay off had their pay cut. Times where hard for Deere & Company.

Farmers where not immune to the depression ether. Many of them also owned Deere money for their tractors and tools. Deere could have repossessed the equipment since they where not getting paid by the farmers. Instead of taking the equipment back and leaving the farmers with no tools to do the work, Deere gave farmers time to pay. This decision cost the company money, but created strong loyalty with the farmers that would carry on for decades.

The First toys

Deere & Company wanted a way to instill loyalty into the next generations of farmers. They had the loyalty of the current generation of farmers, but they also wanted to ensure that their children would stay with John Deere. They came up with a plan that revolved around children toys.

This is where Frederick Ertl fits into the story. Mr. Ertl started making his own tractor toys in 1945. They where becoming increasingly popular. His models already included John Deere tractors, but he did not have the rights to put the John Deere brand on his tractor toys.

A few years later, Ertl met with Deere & Company and they came up with a deal. Ertl would make officially licensed models and sell them only to John Deere stores. He was not allowed to sell them anywhere else. Ertl agreed and in 1952 produced the first official John Deere tractor toy, the Model “A”.

With Ertl only selling his John Deere toys to Deere dealers made sure that you had to buy the toy right from Deere. Also, if someone came in and bought a real tractor, they where given a free tractor toy, so that their child could farm just like their parent.

Toys selling the Real Thing

With Deere & Company giving away tractor toys to the children of the parents that bought real tractors installed brand identity onto the children. They would see their parents using John Deere equipment out on the farm. The children would be pretending that they where using Deere equipment along with their parents, then when they became adults and started farming, they would look to John Deere for all of their equipment needs.

It made them comfortable with the brand, it was the brand that they used plowing the living room floor and those memories turned into using the real thing when they got older.

The Plan is Still Working Today

There are no numbers to show how much tractor toys have influenced sales of real tractors, but you can see that they do have an impact.

When my father would buy farm equipment, I would always get the same thing in toy form. It is gratifying plowing the living room floor just like dad was doing out in the fields. Outside the brands that my father used (and I had toys of) I never realized that there where other brands of equipment out there. I never took over the farm, but I was little partial to one brand.

I also have some friends who are very loyal to John Deere. They have taken over their parents farm and all they buy is John Deere. I can remember as kids going over to their house and playing with, you guessed it, John Deere toys. Now my friends are have kids and wouldn’t you know, they buy the same toys for them.

As you can see, toys are very capable of selling the real thing.

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  1. these are cute! as a kid i grew up around trucks… a lot of my toys were also trucks….This seems like something i should get just for fun!

  2. thomas says:

    Wow I never knew all of that about the history of John Deere. I minored in history back in college so I found this fascinating! It is cool how things in our past influence us today.The marketing decision to give toy trucks away to those who bought regular tractors seems brilliant! I need to buy a toy John Deere for my son Jaxon 🙂
    Thanks for this informative post!

    • Dan says:

      I found this fascinating too! I have a lot of John Deere toys for you to check out in my shop section!
      Thank you for reading and commenting!

  3. Sanders says:

    Hi Dan, Really great to read about some of the history behind the toys and especially when they are such a big brand as John Deere. When I was a kid, we lived on a small farm in Alabama and a Cub Cadet was big enough for my Dad. Of course, my toy tractor was red and I got plenty of rug burns! I’m not a farmer but I live in rural Iowa and whenever I spot a John Deere on the road, I make sure to move over as close to the edge as possible. Those things are huge now!

    • Dan says:

      My dad also had a cub cadet mower. We also had red, green, blue and grey tractors. So of course my toys were all different colors as well!
      The last decade or so tractors have gotten so much bigger!
      Thank you for reading,

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