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The Birth & History of the Farm Tractor
1891-1917
In 1891 William Deering and Co. built an engine with two parallel vertical cylinders which developed 6 horsepower. This was mounted on a New Ideal mower to make it a self-propelled unit. Later this Company designed and built 12- and 16-horsepower engines. One of these engines was used on a self-propelled vehicle from 1892 to 1895; another on an experimental corn picker; and still another was mounted on a mower which was demonstrated at the Paris Exposition in 1900 and at the St. Louis Exposition in 1903.


Below  William Deering and Co ran this advertisement in the 1901 Implement and Tractor Magazine.
click on image to enlarge
early International farming tractor In 1892 when John Froelich built the first mechanically successful gasoline farm tractor, at that time he was exploring and pioneering a new technology. Henry Ford would not be ready to test his first horseless carriage for another year and wouldn't release Fords first farm tractor for another26 years Yet in Iowa, during the autumn of 1892, Froelich built a gasoline traction engine that powered a thresher and pulled the rig from field to field.

John Froelich pieced together a farm tractor from components made by other people. Froelich built his farm tractor by mounting a gasoline engine manufactured by the Van Duzen Gas and Gasoline Engine Company on a steam traction engine chasis made by Robinson and Company. The following year (1893) Froelich incorporated the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company of Waterloo, Iowa.

The company experimented with farm tractors for several years but sold only gasoline engines. In 1895 the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Co. was reorganized as the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. Having achieved considerable success in building gasoline engines, this concern continued its program of building experimental tractors. Almost 20 years passed, however, before this Company began production of its kerosene-burning farm tractor known as the "Waterloo Boy." the Waterloo firm was absorbed by Deere and Company. Deere also acquired its now-familiar green-and-yellow trademark color scheme.
John Deer Waterloo Boy Logo
 First farm tractor factory

Naming the Farm Tractor

In the early years, Farm Tractors were referred to as gasoline traction engines. In the spring of 1907, the Hart-Parr Company determined to find a shorter name and eventually hit on the word, "Tractor," meaning a machine for pulling or hauling. From that time on, they advertised themselves as manufacturers of "Farm Tractors," and have consistently used that term ever since. Trade papers and newspapers took up the new name. Other companies used it later, and today the entire industry is called the "Farm Tractor Industry."

In the last decade of the 19th century, engineers were trying to adapt the crude gas engine of that period to farm purposes. In 1892, two young men from Western farms, C. W. Hart and C. H. Parr, entered the University of Wisconsin and determined to solve this problem. When they graduated in 1896, after having built several successful gas engines in the University shops, they built a shop in Madison, Wisconsin, and there for four years manufactured and sold a series of very successful stationary gasoline engines. In 1900, they moved their shop to Charles City, Iowa, Mr. Hart's home. There, in 1900, they perfected their ideas for a gasoline traction engine which was finally built and successfully operated in 1901.

Right  Hart-Parr Number 1 Built in 1901 sold in 1902 operated successfully by its farmer owner for seventeen years.

 farm tractors
 Mogul Farm Tractors

 

It wasn't long before Hart-Parr had to battle for tractor sales In 1902, McCormick and Deering, the two largest harvesting machinery companies, merged. Together with a few smaller firms, they formed a large trust that achieved an unparalleled horizontal integration of the industry. Almost immediately the new giant, christened the International Harvester Company, By 1910, International Harvester became the leader in tractor sales and by 1911 furnished about one-third of the United States' production.

Left  In 1910, International introduced its "Mogul" farm tractor that year they would become the leader in farm tractor sales and by 1911 furnished about one-third of the United States farm tractors. By 1912, International's annual farm tractor sales had increased to a few thousand tractors per year.
   The The farm tractor replaces the horse
YEAR TRACTORS  HORSES
1920 246,083 25,742,000
1925 505,083 22,589,000
1930 920,021 19,124,000
1935 1,123,251 16,683,000
1940 1,567,430 15,182,000
1945 2,421,747 12,100,000
1950 3,609,281 7,800,000
 
tractor tires
When the Bull tractor (above) came onto the market in 1913 it was an immediate sensation. Here was the first successful small farm tractor to be offered, and farmers bought them by the thousands. Old-timers in the tractor business found that farmers
 were far more interested in the small Bull tractors than in their oversized heavyweight farm tractors, and within the year, virtually every manufacturer, and those aspiring to be so, were attempting to build "small" farm tractors.The Bull was a fraction of the weight of older farm tractors, yet delivered five horsepower at the drawbar and twelve on the belt. But the farm tractors most welcoming attribute was its price, variously reported between $395 and $800. In 1914 the Bull Tractor Company held first place in tractor sales, falling to second place in 1915, fourth in 1916, and seventh in 1917. The Bull tractor died in 1918, the Bull Tractor Company's brief success is somewhat remarkable since The Bull Tractor Company itself did little if any actual manufacturing. The tractors were farmed out to be manufactured by the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company. The company used engines from a variety of suppliers, but when engine suppliers could not meet Bull's needs the industry passed them by.

The account of the Little Bull farm tractor exemplifies the unpredictability that marked the early farming tractor era. It rose from a position of zero tractor-sales to 38 percent of total tractors sold in just eight months; first in tractor sales in 1914, to seventh place in 1917, and finally, to suspension of production in 1918.

Tractor Shows

The publicity that the press furnished the tractor was increased by the great national tractor shows, the first of which was the Winnipeg farm tractor show in 1908 . In its early years, the farm tractor competition became something of a face-off between internal combustion and steam engines. In 1910, the show delivered a decisive victory to the internal combustion camp. The age of steam was over, and the Winnipeg Tractor Trials had become exceedingly important to the industry, the press, and the farmer alike. By 1912, most tractor companies saw the importance to competing at Winnipeg. It was the Winnipeg show that first indicated the new direction in which the tractor industry was moving when in 1913 the small Bull tractor stole the show.

Above  Parking lot of the 1916 tractor show held at Fremont Nebraska. The show drew tens of thousands of visitors from many surrounding states. Several prominent people made appearances, including Cyrus H. McCormick, president of the International. Henry Ford, the car-manufacturing magnate, and his son, Edsel, were also on hand. Henry Ford spent his time shaking hands with farmers and supervising his mechanics, who were operating three Fordson farm tractors.
Because of location and cost of competing the tractor companies lost interest in the Winnipeg Tractor Trials. In it's place A series of tractor shows were staged in the Midwest from 1913 to 1919. The special events were held at selected sites reaching from Texas to the Canadian border. The tractor shows accelerated the introduction of farm tractors in the United States. These tractor shows were huge and popular events that drew hundreds of thousands of people.

Left 
Fordson farm tractor performing at a farm tractor demonstration.
click on image to enlarge

New Names in the Farm Tractor Industry

Soon the farm tractor market would become saturated the Rumely Company, already well established in steam and threshing machines, began building their soon-to-be-famous "Oil Pull" in 1909. At the same time, the long time implement manufacturing firm of B. F. Avery began selling tractors through its dealer network. The following year, another long time farm industry player, Aultman-Taylor began manufacturing tractors. International also introduced its "Mogul" in 1910. Even companies outside of the implement industry were attracted to tractors. For example, the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company, later to be a part of Minneapolis-Moline, began selling tractors. In 1911, the huge railroad supply and windmill company of Fairbanks-Morse started building tractors. Finally, one of the largest steam engine makers, the J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company, also threw it's hat into the farm tractor production ring All of these companies were old, established firms. They were well financed and capable of concentrating enough capital to embark on substantial production runs, which, although small in absolute numbers, were huge in relation to previous output. Even though these companies had organized marketing structures, they soon saturated the farm tractor market
  The instant success of the Bull Tractor Company influenced the tractor industry far more than the company' s short life. Almost immediately, other farm tractor manufacturers rushed out their own light farm tractors. One of the more successful companies in building small farm tractors was the Wallis Tractor Company, the farm tractor division of J. I. Case Plow Works. In 1913, it introduced a farm tractor that was more expensive than the Bull, but was far better designed and better built. For some time the Wallis people had built and sold a large tractor that they named the "Bear." Logically, then, when their small tractor emerged from the factory, it was dubbed the "Cub."
Right  The "Cub" traveled in it's own railroad car to plow contests and demonstrations were it established many plow records.

The Wallis farm tractor was far ahead of it' s time, and departed from common practice in tractor construction in two significant ways, It had no frame in the conventional sense. The lower portion of the engine was a curved section of boilerplate, that connected to the front-end assembly on one end and to the transmission on the other. The frameless design became an industry standard in years to come. The other significant and advanced feature in Cub design was its single front wheel. It was not widely copied immediately, but a decade later and the introduction of the row-crop tractor, the single-wheel or narrow front end became the "conventional" steering gear for farm tractors.

 
The Farm Tractor Industry Becomes Standardized

In 1917 the farm tractor industry would reap the benefit of the experience and knowledge of the automotive world when the Society of Tractor Engineers merged into the far larger Society of Automotive Engineers. The Automotive industry was far more advanced and experienced in engineering and engineering standards.

Many of the first farm tractors were cobbled together in shops that resembled blacksmith shops instead of modern factories. Immediately the tractor companies gained the benefit of the experience-earned knowledge of the automotive world.  It's hard to imagine running a farm tractor today with without an air filter, however in the early days of the industry not only were many tractors sold without them, some tractor company bankruptcies can be partially linked to engine failures caused by the lack of one. Within a few years after standardization primitive ignitions, chain drives, exposed gear drives and babbit bearings were quickly replaced in many models, or old models were replaced entirely.
Motor Cultivator

The early years of farm tractor development, manufacturers concentrated on heavy, high powered machines to replace steam engines. In the mid-1910s, Farm tractor engineers turned to the demands of small farmers. Successful two and three plow tractors were developed, but failed to meet one very big and important power need on American farms - they could not handle row crop cultivation. Even after making the investment in a tractor, a small farmer needed to maintain a team of horses to cultivate row crops.
The result was the motor cultivator, a very light machine primarily designed to carry a set of cultivators. A fundamental problem with the machine was that its usefulness was limited to cultivating and a few other very light tasks. A farmer needed a heavy plow tractor to work the ground in addition to the motor cultivator to weed the growing crop. Fate of the motor cultivator was sealed in 1924 when IHC placed the Farmall tractor on the market. The Farmall could plow and cultivate all for the price of one machine. The only motor cultivator to survive the appearance of the Farmall was Rumely's Do-All, which remained on sale into the 1930s.
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Component Farm Tractors

Beginning in the mid-1910s, dozens of farm tractor companies sprang to life in an attempt to cash in on the tractor craze that was sweeping rural America. They made their farm tractors from readily available, off-the-shelf parts. Everything from radiators, ignition systems, bearings, stampings, and forgings to complete engines and transmissions could be bought off the shelf and bolted together to make a tractor. During the boom cycle of World War 1 these component farm tractors sold well but suffered and didn't survive the hard times.  

Allis 10 - 18

The best seller of all tractors in 1914 was the Little Bull built by the Bull Tractor Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Rivals in the fledgling tractor industry clamored to devise just the right tractor for this thriving market and in 1914, it looked that the Bull Tractor equaled the one to match. Allis-Chalmers gave serious consideration to a joint venture with the Bull Tractor Company . Instead Allis-Chalmers determined to make their own tractor and in 1914 brought out their model 10-18 With a three-wheeled design and transverse engine, the Model 10-18 had a good deal in common with the already successful Little Bull Tractor. But the fast-paced tractor industry left the 10-18 as well as the Little Bull in its aftermath since the demand for more advanced tractors intensified. By 1919, the Bull Tractor was merging with another company to survive and the 10-18 production was down to only 71 units.
Happy Farmer

In 1916 the La Crosse Happy Farmer came along, and enjoyed a considerable amount of tractor sales . Despite the sizable production of the Happy Farmer, the tractor industry was changing very rapidly, and this model was simply a passing means to an end. Ever-changing designs soon limited sales, and as a consequence, the Happy Farmer production ended in 1922.
First Case Tractor

In 1915, Case ventured into the small farm tractor market with its 10-20 farm tractor. At the time, Bull Tractor Company of Minneapolis was dominating tractor sales
FORDSON
Fordsom Tractors
Fordson

Fords first farm tractor brought mass production and intensified competition to the industry. That competition refined the farm tractor in innumerable minor ways, and the cumulative effect of those minor improvements was significant. However the majority of farms in the United States grew corn, cotton, cabbages, or other row crops. Fords first farm tractors were of questionable value for the those types of farms.
FORD 900
 


Ford 900
Wearing the famous gray and red color scheme of the historic Ford 8N Ford's "900" tractor series, introduced in 1955, was historically significant as the company's first "tricycle" or row crop tractors. The Model 961 was a later edition of the series, appearing around 1959. It was of row-crop design and part of Ford's Powermaster line.  

Ford Model T Tractoror

Farm Tractor Conversions
Quite a number of Ford Model T to Ford Tractor conversion

Implement Historyry

In earlier days when horses provided almost all farm power, implements such as binders or mowers drew their power from a bullwheel, a large wheel with cleats or lugs that was forced to turn as the implement ran over the ground. When conditions were good, the implements wheels rolled and turned the rest of the machinery, but when the ground was soft or muddy, the wheels often slid along under motionless shafts and cogwheels. Yet this crude system continued well into the farm tractoror era.
 

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