The Deering Family

William Deering

William Deering, born in 1826 in Maine, came from a long lineage of shipbuilders, farmers and seafaring men of New England. Inspired by his industrious ancestors, in the 1870s, he moved his family to Chicago and developed agricultural machinery and equipment that created greater efficiencies in farming, purchased a farm equipment manufacturing firm and renamed it the Deering Harvester Company. In 1880, William’s two sons, Charles and James, and his son-in-law, Richard, joined the family business.  William Deering’s loved of innovation, coupled with his entrepreneurial spirit inspired him to continually improve his harvesting machines, using cutting-edge technologies that resulted in significant increases in productivity that made commercial agriculture out west profitable. 

Deering Harvester was also one of the first manufacturing endeavors to embark on a vertical expansion for their company by controlling raw materials through the purchase of timber lands. Long before the term “best management practices” was coined, Deering Harvester harvested their timber using scientific principles in keeping with the natural environment.

In 1901, at the age of 75, William retired, leaving the company to his two sons and son-in-law. One year later, several companies were merged with Deering Harvester to form the International Harvester Company.  The company quickly became one of the leading manufacturers of farm implements and remained so through much of the twentieth century.

William was extremely interested in philanthropy, including public welfare, education and other worthy charities. He served as president of the board of trustees of Northwestern University, the allied Garrett Biblical Institute, and was a founder of the Wesley Hospital in Chicago. In his later years, as his health weakened, William and his wife began spending winters in St. Augustine, Florida and by 1910 his permanent home was in Coconut Grove, just south of Miami. He died in Coconut Grove in 1913 at the age of 88.

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Charles Deering

Charles Deering, born in 1852, grew up in Maine and as a young man served in the Navy for twelve years before resigning his commission at age 29 to join Deering Harvester, the family business.  He was considered a natural leader, and used diplomacy and his knowledge of the world to build relationships for Deering Harvester and International Harvester. Charles served as Chairman of the Board of International Harvester from 1902-1910.

In addition to his business acumen, Charles possessed an innate artistic talent; his quick accurate sketches were prized by friends and family. He studied art and attained proficiency as a portrait painter in addition to being an enthusiastic art collector. During that time, he met John Singer Sargent with whom he developed a lifelong friendship.

Charles was a devoted naturalist, planting gardens for bees and birds and building numerous aviaries at his homes in Florida and Illinois. His later years were spent in the beloved gardens he had created. Charles was a generous philanthropist, and much of his art collection was distributed after his death to the Art Institute of Chicago. He was a benefactor of Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami and donated generously to the hospital. He died at his home near Miami in 1927.

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The Deering Estate

Charles Deering’s Florida home south of Miami was known as “The Deering Estate at Cutler.” Now a 444-acre park and museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Deering Estate is a place of natural beauty as well as cultural significance. The Estate includes historical buildings dating from 1896 to 1922 along with significant archaeological sites that date human presence on the land to 10,000 years ago and animals as far back as 100,000 years. It is managed by the Deering Estate Foundation on behalf of the State of Florida.

On site is a Native American Indian midden - the Tequesta Burial Mound – which dates back to 1600. This undisturbed archeological site has been preserved and protected, and is the resting place for more than a dozen chieftains.  Surrounded by extensive natural areas, there are several historic homes on the estate grounds that are open for community educational programs and events. 

Richmond Cottage, built in 1896, originally served as a pioneer home of the Richmond family in the old settlement of Cutler, and was opened as the first inn between Coconut Grove and Key West. In 1916, Charles Deering remodeled it as his winter home. Practically destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, it has been fully restored. 

The Stone House, constructed in 1922 is a Mediterranean Revival style home that still has many original items on display for the pubic to enjoy thanks to generous donations and continued support from the Deering family.

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 For more information visit the Deering Estate Website.

James Deering

James Deering, born in 1859 in South Paris, Maine, was the son of William Deering and his second wife.  At the age of 21, James joined the family’s Deering Harvester Company 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 1925 at the age of 66.

Among the many beneficiaries of James’ 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 & Gardens, and is an accredited museum and National Historic Landmark, owned and operated by Miami-Dade County.

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