History of Moline

The area that would become Moline, Illinois, was platted in 1843 and drew its name from the French word Moulin, which means “mill town.” Engineers and entrepreneurs had built numerous mills throughout the area to harness the power of the Mississippi River, transforming the Moline and Rock Island areas into an industrial hub for the western frontier. Mills for grinding corn and other grains, wool carding mills, and especially sawmills sprung up on the Illinois banks of the Mississippi and milled the thousands of logs floating down the river from Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Around this time, John Deere chose Moline as the new home for his burgeoning steel plow company as the river could provide energy, there were ample coal deposits nearby for fuel, and he predicted that the region’s small but rapidly growing population would provide the workforce he needed for his growing company. As Deere’s company and other local businesses grew and prospered, local officials successfully lobbied the transcontinental railroad to build the first railroad bridge through Moline and across the Mississippi, which provided a huge boost to the area’s economy. The prospect of steady employment in the area’s milling and manufacturing industries drew a steady stream of German, Swedish, and Belgian immigrants to the Moline area and the railroad facilitated the movement of goods and people to and from what was becoming a major commercial hub.

After the Civil War, Moline and the nearby cities of Rock Island, Davenport, and what would become Bettendorf, Iowa, continued to thrive and Moline city officials began an aggressive campaign to provide city services and plan for future growth. Electricity arrived in 1881 and streetcars were introduced a few years later and linked with Rock Island and Davenport streetcars to accommodate the cities’ thriving downtowns.

Moline’s population surged again after World War II when servicemen and women returning from the war found cheap housing and plenty of employment opportunities in the area’s huge manufacturing plants operated by John Deere, International Harvester, Farmall, J.I. Case, and scores of smaller machine shops. By 1980, Moline’s population had grown to 45,000.

During the 80s, a recession led to hard times for the area’s many farm machinery manufacturing businesses. Many Moline citizens lost their jobs and relocated to other regions of the country in search of steady employment. Many plants closed and once thriving, 24-hour-a-day workshops were shuttered forever during the economic downturn.

In recent years, Moline’s economy has begun to rebound and its downtown area has been revitalized with the building of new hotels, shops and restaurants, the John Deere Pavilion, and a sports and entertainment arena, the i wireless Center. Manufacturing businesses are growing and hiring again and the social and economic future of City of Moline and the other communities in the Quad Cities area looks bright once again.