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John Deere during the pioneer days in Manitoba

Deere’s Prairie distribution was performed by a local company in the early years of the wheat boom

The John Deere Company’s involvement with Man­itoba agriculture began with an initial shipment of plows and other cultivation tools to Winnipeg in April of 1878.

However, it is suspected that previous to 1878, homesteaders in Manitoba had bought implements in the U.S., including John Deere implements and brought the equipment to Canada. At the time many homesteaders felt that U.S. implements were of a higher quality than Canadian.

Initially, John Deere equipment was sold through a wholesaler, Wesbrook and Fairchild, a very common practice at the time by machinery manufacturers. Wesbrook and Fairchild obtained implements from John Deere and other manufacturers and resold these items to various dealerships in the country that then sold them to farmers. While this is a strange way of operating by modern thinking, one has to remember that implement manufacturers at the time built a limited number of items. No farm machinery manufacturer built a complete line of equipment at the time.

In 1878, John Deere only manufactured various models of plows, cultivators and harrows. So the dealers that sold John Deere equipment had to sell other manufacturers’ machinery as well in order to meet the needs of their customers. Wholesalers also offered cheaper distribution costs to the manufacturers.

Frank A. Fairchild made his fortune as an early farm equipment distributor serving the Prairie wheat boom.
photo: Manitoba Historical Society

Frank A. Fairchild came to Manitoba from Illinois, accompanying a rail car load of John Deere plows and a number of horses in April 1878. While F.A. Fairchild had been in Illinois long enough to get married there, he was born in Ontario and had clerked in a dry goods store in Dundas, Ontario. He somehow became acquainted with Henry Wesbrook in Winnipeg and they formed a partnership operating in the Market Square area of Winnipeg selling farm equipment. By 1881 they had expanded in the wholesaling business and handled John Deere, J.I. Case and McCormick farm equipment.

The partnership between Westbrook and Fairchild lasted until 1888 at which time Fairchild formed a wholesale business of his own handling equipment from John Deere, Deering, the Gananoque Carriage Company, the Moline Wagon Company and the Lundy and Fairchild Company. It is not known what connection there was between F.A. Fairchild and the Lundy and Fairchild Company, which manufactured the F&A “Band Cutter and Feeder” which probably was a machine which cut up a sheaf of grain into livestock feed and may even have been hand-powered. Fairchild had a showroom in the Grain Exchange Building on Princess Street in Winnipeg.

photo: Manitoba Historical Society

Agriculture in Manitoba from 1895 to 1914 benefited from the wheat boom in this period and Fairchild prospered. However, Fairchild passed away in 1898 at the age of 49. The Fairchild Company was then sold to H.W. Hutchinson who continued on with the business using the Fairchild name. In 1904, the Fairchild Company obtained a vacant lot on Princess Street south of the Grain Exchange Building. Plans were drawn up for a multi-storey warehouse and showroom. Construction was completed by 1907 on this 63,000-square-foot building.

The Fairchild Building was one of the first warehouses to feature a steel frame and presented an attractive appearance as the curtain wall facing Princess featured a red brick trimmed with stone and terra cotta detail work. The showroom faced out on to Princess and featured very large windows to display the goods Fairchild wholesaled. The rear wall of the building was almost all windows which allowed natural lighting of the warehouse, workshop and shipping areas. There was a CPR spur that ran between Princess and Adelaide streets which provided rail access to the rear of the Fairchild Building.

Upon completion of the Fairchild Building the company was sold to the John Deere Company. Apparently Hutchinson had been in negotiations with John Deere for four years regarding the possible sale of Fairchild. The John Deere Company formed a subsidiary, John Deere of Canada, and hired Hutchinson to operate it.

By this time, attitudes at John Deere were changing about the wholesaler network the company was using in North America. From 1870 onwards, John Deere had set up a number of “branch houses” across the western U.S. These branch houses were not owned by John Deere. Instead the branch houses generally were owned by partnerships between various individuals in the John Deere Company such as Charles Deere and Stephen Velie and locals in the area that the branch house operated in. This was not a fixed rule however, as the San Francisco branch house was owned outright by a local family.

The John Deere branch houses operated as wholesaler jobbers — that is the branch house took possession of the machinery it wholesaled and paid the John Deere company for it. And the branch houses wholesaled other manufacturers’ machinery. In 1908 one branch house was wholesaling Deering equipment at a time when the John Deere Company was very concerned about IHC, which Deering was a part of. The formation of IHC at the turn of the century had resulted in a revolution in the farm machinery business as IHC offered a complete line of farm equipment, was adept in marketing, offered financing to farmers, had strong financial backing and was very aggressive.

By 1907 people were beginning to realize that wholesalers presented problems when wholesaling technologically complex products which were costly, required demonstration, servicing and ongoing followup. A company-owned distribution network was better at these tasks. By 1907, farm machinery was becoming more technologically complex. John Deere slowly began to wrap up the various partnerships, folding the branch houses into the John Deere Company. John Deere also began to buy up many of the companies that wholesaled its equipment through the various branch houses which resulted in the Dain, Van Brunt, Moline Wagon, Bain Wagon and others being folded into the John Deere Company. Dain is notable as Dain operated a Canadian branch plant at Welland, Ontario which John Deere of Canada operated for a number of years.

The Fairchild Company appears to have been part of this drive to bring the wholesaler network into the John Deere company. As well as the Winnipeg operation, Fairchild had facilities in Regina, Calgary and Edmonton making Fair­child very attractive, particularly in light of the wheat boom and ongoing expansion of Prairie agriculture. John Deere conducted business out of the Fairchild Building until 1953, when it moved to facilities more suitable to the larger farm equipment being built by then. The Fairchild Building was purchased by a garment manufacturer which used it to manufacture clothing. The manufacturer also rented out space to other companies.

In 2004 a developer purchased the Fairchild Building, converted it to residential lofts and today the building is known as the Fairchild Lofts. Terra cotta plaques featuring the Fairchild Company logo, an ornately intertwined FC, still adorn the front of the building.

2017 is the 180th anniversary of John Deere.

The Manitoba Agricultural Museum is open year round and operates a website at http://ag-museum.mb.ca/ which can provide visitors with information on the museum and the reunion including location and hours of operation.

About the author

Contributor

Alex Campbell is the director of the Manitoba Agricultural Museum, which is open year round and operates a website at http://ag-museum.mb.ca/ which can provide visitors with information.

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