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The Columbian Peace Plow

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

When the Daughters of the American Revolution looked about for someone to beat swords into a ploughshare in 1893, it seemed only natural that they turn to Deere and Company in Moline. It was John Deere's self-scouring plow that had finally broken the tough but rich prairie soils of Illinois and Iowa, creating America's "breadbasket for the world." And by 1893, Deere and Company was well on the way to making Moline the farm equipment capitol of the country.

The Columbian Peace Plow, as the Daughters of the American Revolution called it, was actually an afterthought. The previous year, in honor of the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America, the Daughters had collected thousands of historic metal relics from all the states to melt down and cast into a Columbian Liberty Bell for exhibition at the 1893 Exposition in Chicago.

After the bell was cast, there were leftover relics, including two Civil War swords, one Union and the other Confederate. "Why not carry out the mandate in the Bible by making a plow out of these and other leftovers," a committee member suggested.

Deere and Company accepted the commission in the spring of 1893 and agreed to manufacture the plow at no cost. The company published notices in newspapers across the United State requesting relics. In addition to the two Civil War Swords, there were pieces of a Revolutionary War bayonet, parts of pike made by John Brown to arm his soldiers, a hand-made nail from the room in which the Declaration of Independence was signed, a piece of the original Atlantic Cable, Jefferson Davis's keys, John Greenleaf Whittier's pen point, and metal from 22,000 additional historical items.

The Columbian Peace Plow was exhibited in Chicago, at England's Runnymede, at the World's Fair in Paris in 1900, then in Asia, Russia, and Germany. In 1983, the plow finally came home to rest in the Administrative Center of Deere and Company. As impressive as the plow was, it was far less successful that John Deere's first plow—peace being a much tougher soil to break every than Illinois prairie.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.