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Inventor's Success Story
The rise of DICKEY john Company over the past 25 years from an on-farm start-up business into a $50 million corporation is nothing short of an "Alice In Wonderland" story, and one with special interest for me since I photographed and gave national publicity to Bob Dickey's first planter monitor.
It's hard to believe that this world leader in electronic monitoring equipment got its start from a lawn mower accident and a hospital visit by a preacher. But, that's how it happened.
In the mid-60's, Bob Dickey, a young farmer near Chatham, Ill., was mowing his lawn when a piece of wire hit him in the eye. It was a serious accident. During his stay at the hospital he was paid a visit by his preacher, a man who was well-acquainted with farming. So it was not strange that the conversation drifted to farming.
"During the visit he told me that some-thing badly needed in farming was a monitor to keep tabs on flow of grain from planter boxes to the ground," Dickey recalls. "It got me thinking and I went on to produce the rust homemade monitor as a result."
It was the beginning of a lot of struggle and growing pains over the years, too, as he started building and selling the monitors, bringing in outside help to turn the fledgling enterprise into a growing concern. There were some ups and downs, but the timing was right and the company boomed during the 70's and 80's.
One of the most common questions Bob Dickey has been asked over the years concerns the unusual name of the company.
What happened was this: Dickey's "side-kick" at the time was his brother-in-law, Jack Littlejohn. So, while coming up with a name for the company, they decided to make it a hybrid and spell it with "DICKEY" in capital letters and "john" in lower case letters. The name has always had an eye-catching appeal that the company thought had value.
DICKEY john vice president Ellen Hearn says the company, which originally operated out of Bob Dickey's farmhouse kitchen, now employs nearly 400 people in its manufacturing plant and corporate head-quarters on the south side of Auburn, Ill., where, appropriately, it is surrounded by corn and soybean fields.
Sales first approached $50 million in 1990 and distribution extends to Japan and Europe, in addition to the United States, Canada and Latin America.
While the original DICKEY-john concept was a planter monitor, widespread acceptance of that monitor has paved the way for an entirely new technology called "Agrionics" that involves all types of agricultural electronics equipment.
Today, DICKEY john is a major supplier of agrionics to agricultural equipment manufacturers. In fact, DICKEY john instrumentation is found on many of the tractors, combines, cotton harvesters and seed planters sold around the world. The company also makes products for construction, food, and public works industries.

(C.F. Marley is a veteran freelance farm reporter based in Nokomis, Ill.)

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1992 - Volume #16, Issue #2