Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Moving to the City of Mills

Moline in 1869, original source unknown found on's Flickr page.  
Note the factories located just to the right of the bridge. The bridge is roughly the location of the dam that supplied power to the earliest factories.

     My wife Lauren and I will be moving to our new home in Moline, IL over the next few days. I thought I'd put a short post together about the early history of Moline.

     The city's name comes from the French word Moulin which means "mill town." The name derives from the factories that sprung up in the late 1840's and early 1850's along the Sylvan Slough after it was dammed by David Sears in 1837. The hydraulic power from the dam was used to power a number of mills. The town was initially going to be named the Rock Island Mills, but that name failed to take hold.

     John Deere was among the early manufactures to relocate to Moline having first established himself at Grand Detour, Illinois. His factory opened in 1848. The "Moline Plows" were prized throughout the country and within three years of opening Deere and his laborers were churning out seventy plows a week. Deere was in competition with other plow-makers in the area including the Moline Plow Company and Rock Island Plow Works. The Moline Plow Company supposedly sold plows which were based on Deere's own designs and depended on the fact that Deere's plows where often known as "Moline Plows" to help generate sales.

     Moline benefited from water power initially, but over the long term, it was its access to river transportation and the transcontinental railroad that lead to the creation of a booming industrial city by the late 19th century (See my article on the Rock Island Road Bridge case for more details on the railroads). The city boasted dozens of factories that manufactured clothing, furniture, wagons, iron, paper, and more. Because of the relative ease of transportation by railroad Moline was able to attract newly arrived immigrants who readily filled open manufacturing jobs as they fled economic ruin in Europe.

 Benjamin Franklin Tillinghast, Three Cities and Their Industrial Interests (Davenport: Glass and Hoover, 1884).
Deere and Company, "Little Known Facts about John Deere."
Moline Preservation Society
Neil Dahlstrom and Jeremy Dahlstrom, The John Deere Story: A Biography of Plowmakers John and Charles Deere (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005).


  1. Very Interesting! Wasn't Deere the first man to invent a plow that could be marketed and sold effectively in large numbers? I know plows were used throughout the area for farming, but I was under the assumption that they were made out of a wide range of materials and did not have a uniform manner of construction before Deere.

  2. So was Rock Island a town before Moline was? Is that why it was almost called Rock Island Mill? Also, did John Deere start off in Moline, as in before his company was even known as John Deere?

    I think this info is really cool and I am glad you and Lauren have a chance to live somewhere interesting (at least to me). Good luck to the both of you!

  3. Lauren, you are pretty close on Deere. He did not invent the steel plow as the myth goes, but he was the first to successfully market the steel plow and to sell them on an industrial scale. Moline was the perfect location because steel plows where needed to cut through the thick prairie sod. Earlier plows were usually made from mold board some farmers added steel or iron tips to these to make them more durable and allow for a better till.

    Miranda, Rock Island was the first of the "Quad Cities" followed by Davenport, Iowa. Rock Island was originally known as Stephenson. Rock Island would have actually been named Davenport had it not been for hostility from certain politicians. George Davenport never lived in Davenport, Iowa. Its all kind of strange.