James Deering was born in 1859 in South Paris, Maine, the son of William Deering and his second wife, Clara Hammond Deering. He began school in Maine before the family moved to Chicago. James attended Northwestern University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Largely self-educated, he taught himself to read German, French, and Italian.
At the age of 21, James joined the family’s Deering Harvester Company. He quickly absorbed all aspects of the Company’s operations, starting in the factory and working his way up. Interested in the experimental side of the business, he understood and fostered the use of new technologies at the factories. In 1900, James arranged a prize-winning exhibit of Deering farm equipment at the Paris International Exposition. After International Harvester was formed in 1902, James continued to work for the company until 1908, served as Vice President until 1919, and was a Director of the Company until his death.
In September 1925, at the age of 66, James died aboard the Steamship City of Paris en route to the United States. Among the many beneficiaries of his philanthropic legacy were Chicago’s Wesley Hospital (an institution founded by his father), the Visiting Nurse Association, the Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
James Deering’s greatest legacy is perhaps his winter home, “Vizcaya.” It is now known as Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, and is an accredited museum and National Historic Landmark, owned and operated by Miami-Dade County. The museum’s mission is “to preserve Vizcaya to engage our community and its visitors in learning through the arts, history, and the environment.”