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Innovator and equipment builder Vermeer succumbs at age 90

Brand name spotted worldwide

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

PELLA, Iowa - In Search of a Better Way, is the title of the biography – already out of print - by Iowa inventor and entrepreneur Gary Vermeer. His search resulted in a line of innovative equipment, which endeared Vermeer to numerous farmers and contractors throughout the world who continue to use his company’ effort-saving equipment line. Vermeer, who last year celebrated the 60th anniversary of his equipment manufacturing business, recently died at the age of 90. His business had become one of Iowa’s premier farm and construction equipment manufacturers.

Vermeer’s first innovation in 1948 saved farmers the task of shoveling corn from wagons by hand. His invention, a mechanical hoist, dumped an entire load of corn by simply lifting the front end of the wagon. Vermeer, who at the time was 29, went on to introduce many other innovations and a line of sought-after farm and construction equipment, including the first round hay baler, the first stump cutter and a line of trenching equipment that is now sold worldwide. The current trenching line is complete with trenchless bores that do not disturb topsoil or pavement and pneumatic bores that handle obstructing rocks and stony ground.

Twenty years ago, Vermeer turned management of the family-owned business over to his son, Robert Vermeer, and to his daughter, Mary Vermeer Andringa, who are co-chief executives of Vermeer Manufacturing. Currently, the company employs more than 2,000 workers with more than $600 million in annual sales.

Vermeer mile

The family business has a reputation in Iowa and in the equipment industry as being one of the most efficient and well-run manufacturing operations in the U.S.A.

As part of its 60th anniversary celebration in 2008, the company invited writers for farm and construction equipment trade publications from around the world to visit the “Vermeer mile” in the Dutch immigrant-founded town of Pella, an area on the edge of town where Vermeer manufacturing plants stretch on for a full mile.

The writers were shown how Vermeer has used manufacturing techniques to cut costs and save time. Vermeer now builds a wood chipper in 3 days, down from 52 days in 1999.

The biography In Search of a Better Way notes that Vermeer and his wife Matilda still lived in the same modest home outside Pella they moved into 55 years ago and that the couple’s preferred choice of restaurants remained McDonald’s. Following his retirement, the Lunteren, the Netherlands descended equipment builder returned to his roots: farming.