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Farm related firms in Illinois Top 10

The Deere & Company world headquarters is based in Moline. The farm equipment manufacturer was voted as the No. 2 company in Illinois, falling in place behind Archer Daniels Midland as No. 1.
The Deere & Company world headquarters is based in Moline. The farm equipment manufacturer was voted as the No. 2 company in Illinois, falling in place behind Archer Daniels Midland as No. 1.

Archer Daniels Midland Co., which helps feed the world by turning crops into food ingredients, came out as the top business in the Illinois Top 200 project of the Illinois Bicentennial Celebration.
Based in Chicago, its extensive operations in Decatur, helped nickname that Central Illinois community the “Soybean Capital of the World.” ADM is one of the world’s largest processors of corn, soybeans and other agricultural crops. It has approximately 31,000 employees.
The Illinois Top 200 project lets Illinoisans vote online every two weeks on the most inspiring leaders, greatest books, top businesses and much more. By the state’s 200th birthday on Dec. 3, voters will have chosen 10 favorites in 20 different categories — the Illinois Top 200.

In second place is Deere & Co., whose green-and-yellow farm equipment can be found in fields around the world. In 1837, a blacksmith named John Deere is credited with inventing the plow that could cut through tough prairie soil. Today, the Moline-based company employs more than 55,000 people and ranks 105th in the Fortune 500.

In third place is Caterpillar Inc., which began as a tractor company but is best known today for construction equipment used from Chicago to Shanghai. “Cat” equipment is still relatively common in farm and agribusiness applications.

Another direct farm giant is seventh place DeKalb Genetics Corp. (formerly DeKalb AgResearch). Founded in 1917 by DeKalb County farmers, the company was a pioneer in developing corn hybrids to resist disease and yield more grain.

Walgreens was fifth. The drugstore chain began in Chicago. Its parent company ranks 17th on the Fortune 500, higher than any other Illinois business.

In sixth place is Rand McNally, a Skokie company that is now synonymous with maps and atlases, which traces its roots back to a Chicago printing business that began in 1856.

State Farm, started in Bloomington as a single-line auto insurer in 1922, now has 70,000 employees and ranks 33rd on the Fortune 500.
DQ, McDonald's, Sears make list
DQ finished 10th among voting for historic business, behind giants of business in comparison.

The first Dairy Queen shop was opened in Joliet in 1940, but the first trial tasting held by founder Sherwood “Sherb” Noble was in Kankakee on Aug. 4, 1938.

“The reports told of a near riot that day — when 1,600 cones were served in 90 minutes in an all-you-can-eat frenzy. That sensation eventually led to the creation of the Dairy Queen phenomenon. And that success led to the special moment last week, when the final Noble Foundation funds were dispersed to seven local charities,” the late Dennis Yohnka wrote in a Dec. 15, 2014, Daily Journal article.

The occasion for that article was the closing of the Noble Foundation from which seven Kankakee-based organizations received $45,000-plus each, following 20 years of gifting by Noble, who died in 1991.

“Probably the most touching aspect of the event was hearing all of the recipients explain the impact of the funds,” said Joe Rintelman, Noble’s grandson. “Sherb was a quiet man. He would have never talked about helping so many people.”

“He really wasn’t interested in the spotlight,” said his daughter, Susan Stevens. “I didn’t know that much about what he did ... his connection to Dairy Queen ... until I was 16. He never elaborated.”

The building that housed the first Dairy Queen still stands. It is now the home of Paisano Auto Insurance.

Seven of the Top 10 businesses are farm related — with DQ strongly ag related because its signature product comes from cows.

McDonald’s, fourth on the Top 10 list, also is a business with strong farm connections, in Big Macs and all its other food products. With headquarters in the Chicago area, McDonald’s serves about 69 million people each day and is the world’s second-largest private employer.

Sears, headquartered in Hoffman Estates, and eighth on the list of historic businesses, had more direct farm links thorough its historic catalogs.

Originally a jewelry business, it grew into the Sears Roebuck mail order giant that sold substantially to rural people in its early days, with farm tractors, implements, hand tools, overalls and work shoes among catalog items.

Diversity and strength

The Top 10 selections “really drive home the diversity and strength of Illinois business,” said Alan Lowe, executive director of the sponsoring Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. “Voters have recognized manufacturers, restaurant chains, retailers, agri-business and more.”

Several nominees that did not make the final cut are businesses that had a huge impact in the 19th century but are no longer around, at least not in the same form.

They include the Illinois Central Railroad, which helped make Chicago a transportation hub, and is now part of the Canadian National Railway; Pullman Palace Car Co., which played an important role — sometimes good and sometimes bad — in transportation, the labor movement, civil rights and even urban planning; and Montgomery Ward, another company that popularized mail-order shopping.

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