Theophilus Brown Patent for a Manure Spreaders

Opinion: my Grandfather’s John Deere would support our Right to Repair

Willie Cade’s grandfather, Theo, an engineer at John Deere, helped invent the manure spreader. His grandson thinks John Deere’s efforts to kill right to repair legislation is what stinks.

My grandfather, Theo Brown, a legendary John Deere engineer, pioneered and patented the manure spreader in 1915 … but what John Deere is spreading these days really stinks.

If my grandfather saw how John Deere was undermining farmers’ rights to repair their equipment, well, I think he’d remind the people at Deere’s headquarters in Moline, Illinois, of the values that built that company from the start: dedication to the customer.

Willie Cade is the Founder of the Electronics Reuse Conference and the grandson of Theo Brown, inventor of the manure spreader.

Deere’s focus was on customers

Theo spent most of his career as a fiercely loyal John Deere employee. For 30 years he served as a member of Deere’s board. He loved inventing the new technology of his day that helped people and made their lives easier, and safer.  He loved John Deere for its commitment to those values. They were building better lives together, solving problems for America.

Testimony: There’s No Internet of Things Risk in Repair

An avid diarist, Theo’s journals detail his travels all over the country as he visited his inventions in the field to better understand how people used John Deere products. He wanted to design products that would facilitate safer and easier operations, not impose costly delays or contribute to more farming accidents. That closeness to the customer and his dedication inspired many additional patents.

My grandfather had 158 patents…These days, John Deere requires its customers jump through hoops to repair their equipment causing needless delays and extra expense.

– Willie Cade, Founder of Electronics Reuse Conference

My grandfather had 158 patents — 31 of which are on the manure spreader. Those patents helped build John Deere’s success. But these days, John Deere requires its customers jump through hoops to repair their equipment causing needless delays and extra expense.

Theophilus Brown Manure Spreader
Image from Theophilus Brown’s 1915 patent for a manure spreader (USP#1139482).

Because cutting edge software and hardware are combined in today’s equipment, special software is needed even for repairs. Deere and other manufacturers justify this bad behavior in the name of copyright and safety.

From helping customers to taxing them

In reality, they are needlessly taxing their customers. Because of software locks and other barriers to repair, farmers must have an authorized John Deere technician do repairs at considerably higher cost and hassle. It undermines what my grandfather was all about.

Some companies refuse to sell replacement parts. Others use software to lock out independent repairers. That limits who can fix things. Farmers who can’t repair farm equipment and a wide spectrum of Americans who can’t repair their smartphones are pushing back in states across the country.

As Right to Repair Effort Falters, Massachusetts moves to study Impact

In my home state of Illinois, the Illinois Hospital Association, Illinois PIRG, and are working to pass legislation that would liberate our stuff and empower consumers by guaranteeing access to parts, tools, manuals and diagnostic software. Illinois is just one of many states considering Right to Repair legislation.

Repair and reuse

I know, firsthand, how these reforms can help.

I first got involved in the repair business 25 years ago. My friend needed a computer at home but couldn’t afford one. I was sitting on the board of a nonprofit that helped underprivileged high school students and suggested that we take discarded computers repair them and provide them to students who needed them. So, I built a business that took these unwanted computers, and helped talented students who needed them but couldn’t afford the high costs.

It should not be impossible or illegal for people to fix what they own. People should be allowed to decide how to spend their own money

– Willie Cade, Founder, Electronics Reuse Conference

When you buy something, you should be able to repair it. Like my grandfather, I believe helping people get the most out of the things they own and rely on is a calling. Thousands of businesses across the country do just that.

It should not be impossible or illegal for people to fix what they own. People should be allowed to decide how to spend their own money

We should give every consumer and every small business access to the parts, tools, and service information they need to repair products, so we can keep things in use and reduce waste.

Why wouldn’t we? Letting people fix the stuff they own improves their lives and reduces waste. According to Illinois PIRG, we dispose of 15,300 cell phones every day in Illinois.

Thrift and efficiency were the values my grandfather and the John Deere of his generation embraced. It’s time John Deere returned to those core values.


  1. Pingback: Grandson of Legendary John Deere Inventor Calls Out Company On Right To Repair ( – Modern Tech Builder

  2. To begin with their junk ..mowers that don’t mow grass without leaving unsightly strips of unmowed grass, tillers that skip half the job. Can a different brand it doesn’t break all the time and can’t even do the job when they’re brand new. Throw a dart at the manufacturing map, and you’ll hit something better.

  3. James R Parker

    I am a retire army war veteran. I built my ranch off off of mostly recycled materials from the army and throw away from the general public. Americans are so wasteful as well as the military. Sometimes it’s now their fault due to the ways things are built or made. I would to it is easy for me to repair are modify what should have been done right from the start. Vaccum cleaners are thrown away constantly by consumers because they are clogged up in the middle section and that causes the belt to burn out along with the vac brush being full of hair and carpet string. I could go on forever about what I have picked up for scrap metal and especially clothes dryers with a couple bucks in loose change.

  4. So true, so true.

  5. Keep up the good work my father was born in 1930s people today are million times wasteful learn to reuse

  6. Waldo the Great

    In the Beginning, God created and blessed seeds, but no tractors or manure spreaders…

  7. Michael Malecha

    Huge subsidies in the ag sector promote this perversion of free enterprise. In a free market this obvious disregard for the customer and the industry would not last through a planting and harvesting cycle. Restrictions such as this would boldly enable competition to eliminate this obvious restriction of customer freedom. Hint CNH others!

  8. I smell bull****. He invented a type of manure spreader not the original manure spreader. Manure spreaders were built way before 1915

  9. John Rabson Jr

    Nowadays we use social media instead.

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