SAARINEN. William A. Hewitt [Chairman]: WELCOME TO THE DEERE & COMPANY ADMINISTRATIVE CENTER. Moline, Il.: Deere & Company, [1964].

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William A. Hewitt [Chairman]

William A. Hewitt [Chairman]: WELCOME TO THE DEERE & COMPANY ADMINISTRATIVE CENTER. Moline, Il.: Deere & Company, [1964]. Ephemera: four pieces produced in conjunction with the opening of the Eeero Saarinen-designed Deere & Company Administrative Center in 1964. Printed Deere & Company letterhead with welcome notice signed in facsimile by William A. Hewitt; four-panel accordion-fold brochure printed in duotone; single-fold printed brochure for visitors; and two-sided map of Moline and vicinity. Map with inked notation. Other pieces lightly handled and folded as issued for mailing, thus a very good set of original vintage ephemera.

The Deere & Company Administrative Center opened on April 20, 1964. The buildings were designed by the Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, who died before its construction was complete, only four days after he signed the contract for the newest buildings. The project was finished by architect Kevin Roche. It was built according to Deere & Company President William Hewitt's instructions using COR-TEN weathering steel—one of the first architectural applications of the material—which gave the building an earthy look as it oxidized and aged.

Here are excerpts from The Story of Saarinen's John Deere Headquarters, by Louise A. Mozingo: In May 1955, William A. Hewitt became president of Deere & Company, then second to International Harvester in the farm machinery business and distinctly lagging in the emerging global market. By autumn 1955, Hewitt had authored a strategic plan to bring about industry leadership "in six key indices — sales, profit ratios, quality, new designs, safety of operations, and excellence in employee, dealer, stockholder, and public relations."

As a key part of the strategy, Hewitt included, "Build a new office building." Hewitt realized that the company's Moline location needed an extra draw in the competitive labor market of the booming postwar economy and a consolidated image to create a global corporation.

Initially Hewitt obtained "a big box of architects' prospectuses" from his friend, the top Ford executive Robert McNamara, a classmate at Berkeley and Harvard Business School, who had recently directed the completion of a new administration building.

But Henry Dreyfuss, the longstanding product design consultant who had modernized the look of the Deere & Company products, most notably the streamlined tractor of 1938, guided Hewitt to two recent projects Dreyfuss considered "superb models to emulate": the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Auditorium and the General Motors Technical Center, both designed by Eero Saarinen.

As Hewitt recounted in his 1964 inaugural speech: "Henry said if we were interested in an architect whose work will last and still be excellent 25 or 50 years from now, we should seriously consider Eero Saarinen." Hewitt visited both projects, meeting Saarinen at the Technical Center. As Hewitt described it, "Then and there I decided Eero Saarinen was the man for the job."

The Deere & Company corporate board did not match Hewitt's enthusiasm for a new building, resisting abandonment of the company's traditional residence and wary of appearing pretentious to their farmer customers. But with "his personal credibility on the line," Hewitt sold the idea of the building, the site, and the architect to his cautious board.

In August 1957, Hewitt wrote to Saarinen "to set down a few fundamental ideas that may be helpful to you in creating a new headquarters for Deere & Company." Hewitt emphasized his lack of preconceptions about what the design of the building should be, which he saw as Saarinen's responsibility, and then stated:

“The men who built this company and caused it to grow and flourish were men of strength — rugged honest, close to the soil. Since the company's early days, quality of product and integrity in relationships with farmers, dealers, suppliers, and the public in general have been Deere's guiding factors. In thinking of our traditions and our future, and in thinking of the people who will work in or visit our new headquarters, I believe it should be thoroughly modern in concept, but at the same time, be down to earth and rugged.”

Saarinen's first inspiration was to raise a "rugged" concrete building: a pyramid inverted, on the highest bluff overlooking the valley floor. According to Saarinen's associate Paul Kennon, Saarinen returned to his office and began work on a steel-frame building lower down in the valley "that was absolutely sympathetic to the trees." To Saarinen "the broad ravines seemed the finest, most pleasant, and most human site" for the building.

Three weeks after the aborted inverted pyramid, Saarinen requested that Hewitt visit his office in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. As Hewitt remembered it in 1977, Saarinen showed him a model of the new scheme "complete with land contours, trees, shrubs and a pond."

The main steel-frame administration building straddled the valley floor facing the flat farm fields and the Rock River valley. A fourth-floor bridge connected it to the product display building extending up the valley's side; a corresponding extension on the opposite side of the valley accommodated future building expansion. Hewitt, satisfied that it met the company's program, gave the go-ahead to develop the design.

Saarinen's next move was to earn him an assured place in the history of 20th-century architecture, a clearly stated goal on his part. Instead of the lustrous metal that he used in other buildings before and after, Saarinen trussed the edifice in the obtrusively industrial Cor-Ten steel, which rusts to a protective finish. Saarinen described his decision:

“Deere & Company is a secure, well-established, successful farm machinery company, proud of its Midwestern farm-belt location. Farm machinery is not slick, shiny metal but forged iron and steel in big, forceful, functional shapes. The proper character for the headquarters' architecture should likewise not be slick, precise glittering glass and spindly metal building, but a building which is bold and direct, using metal in a strong, basic way.”

“Having decided to use steel, we wanted to make a steel building that really was a steel building (most so-called steel buildings seem to me to be more glass buildings than steel buildings, really not one thing or the other). We sought an appropriate material — economical, maintenance free, bold in character, dark in color.”

Saarinen's choices for the exterior manipulation of the Cor-Ten certainly expressed the building's horizontal straddle of the ravine, binding it into the surrounding landscape. After the building's completion, the rust's organic, earthy patina would elicit fortuitous recollections of both the surrounding tree trunks and the color of plowed fields, but at the outset, the unproven concept was easily perceived as bizarre.

Hewitt later recalled his engineers' reactions: "[They] were a little alarmed, thinking 'We've been warning farmers against rust for 120 years, and now Hewitt wants to build a big rusty building — and make us work in it.”

Displaying a rare loyalty, Hewitt did not waver in his support of Saarinen. As Dawson assesses it, "There was not another industrialist who would have agreed to a rusty building.”