John Deere and tractors are as synonymous as water and H²O. So it is ironic that the man who started Deere & Co., one of the oldest and largest American corporations, with annual sales exceeding $21 billion, never produced a single tractor in his life. He may have seen one of the 30,000-pound steam-traction behemoths built in the 1870s, but tractors as we know them did not exist in his lifetime. John was born in Rutland, Vt., in 1804 and was raised in nearby Middlebury. When John was 4, his father went to England and left the following note: "I hope to obtain the means of paying my debts and making our family comfortable. My Dear Child as I am to be absent from you many months I wish you to attend to a few kinds of instructions . . . Let truth and honesty be your guide . . . Be dutiful to your mother, kind to your sister and brothers . . ." John never saw his father again, and the task of raising the children fell on his mother's shoulders.