Companies with ag roots among top businesses in Illinois history

Three companies with deep agricultural roots were named the top businesses in Illinois history as part of the Illinois Top 200 project.

Archer Daniels Midland Co., which helps feed the world by turning crops into food ingredients, came out No. 1 in the online voting. 

It was followed by Deere & Co., whose green-and-yellow farm equipment can be found in fields around the world.

In third place was Caterpillar Inc., which began as a tractor company but is best known today for construction equipment used from Chicago to Shanghai.

The Illinois Top 200 project lets Illinoisans vote 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.

The top 10 businesses include:

Archer Daniels Midland: Based in Chicago but with extensive operations in Decatur, ADM is one of the world’s largest agricultural processors, with approximately 31,000 employees.

Deere & Co.: In 1837, a blacksmith named John Deere invented a 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. 

Caterpillar Inc.: Cat, which recently shifted its headquarters from Peoria to Deerfield, is the world’s largest maker of construction equipment. It employs 95,000 people and ranks 74th on the Fortune 500.

McDonald’s: With headquarters in the Chicago area, McDonald’s serves about 69 million people each day and is the world’s second-largest private employer.

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

Rand McNally: This Skokie company, now synonymous with maps and atlases, traces its roots back to a Chicago printing business that began in 1856. 

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. 

Sears: Sears grew from a jewelry business to mail-order giant to the largest retailer in America. Based in Hoffman Estates, it has 596 department stores.

State Farm: This Bloomington company was founded in 1922. Today it has 70,000 employees and ranks 33rd on the Fortune 500.

Dairy Queen: The first DQ opened in Joliet in 1940. Now based in Minnesota, the company popularized soft-serve ice cream and today runs more than 6,000 restaurants.

“These results really drive home the diversity and strength of Illinois business. Voters have recognized manufacturers, restaurant chains, retailers, agribusiness and more,” said Alan Lowe, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.

“Illinois has a rich agricultural heritage,” said Illinois Department of Agriculture director Raymond Poe. 

“In fact, our state was at the forefront of agricultural research and innovation even before we gained statehood in 1818.  

“While ADM, Deere and Caterpillar are names that are synonymous with Illinois agriculture, their contributions can also be seen beyond the field and into the countless communities up and down our state.”  

Several nominees which 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; 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, a company that popularized mail-order shopping.

The Illinois Top 200 is a joint initiative of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, The (Springfield) State Journal-Register and the Illinois Bicentennial Commission.

Future categories include authors, musicians, actors, leaders, buildings and unforgettable moments. 

Everyone is invited to suggest possible nominees in each category by using the hashtag #ILtop200 on social media.

The Gazette-Democrat

112 Lafayette St.
Anna, Illinois 62906
Office Number: (618) 833-2158

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