Illinois State Museum

Central Prairie - Plowing the Prairie

John Deere Plow
Illinois State Museum Collection

Early settlers avoided the prairie. Some thought that unforested land couldn’t support crops. Prairie soil is very fertile, but plowing it was difficult. Prairie sod is tough to cut through. The soil stuck to the cast-iron plow blades, making it necessary to stop every few steps and clean them. John Deere solved this problem in 1837 with his self-scouring steel plow. By 1850, most of the Grand Prairie had been plowed and converted to cropland.