Moldboard Plow

Image of Moldboard plow
Image of Moldboard plow detail
Breaking ground on the Grand Prairie

This iron moldboard plow was brought to LaSalle County from Connecticut by the Smith family in 1834. It was used to break the prairie on the Smith’s farm, twelve miles north of Ottawa.

Plows like this were instrumental in transforming the Grand Prairie of Illinois into tillable farmland, but that transformation did not come easily. Before the invention of John Deere’s steel plow in 1837, breaking sod on the prairie was miserable, backbreaking work. Iron-bladed plows, such as this one, were barely up to the task of cutting through roots, which extended down as far as six feet. Heavy soil clung to the blade, rendering it useless until it was scraped off. The cast iron blade dulled easily and broke often. As many as six-yoke of oxen working for half a day were required to break a single acre. Little wonder that the first Anglo-European settlers to Illinois preferred to claim timbered land along waterways rather than the open prairies; it was much easier to plow around trees than to break sod.

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