Great American Tractors .com

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Firestone Pneumatic Tires

The names Goodyear, Dunlop, and Firestone show up in the history of tractors. These men introduced the world to pneumatic tires, which ultimately became the standard for farm equpment.

Early tractors had iron and steel wheels with steel blades (sort of like paddles) welded in place to provide a good grip in soft earth. Farmers and tractor companies were convinced this was the best type of wheel for farm work.

In the late 1830’s Charles Goodyear, having become obsessed with how to make rubber less sticky in warm weather and less hardened in cool weather, finally hit upon the idea of adding sulphur to heated rubber. The process became known as “vulcanization” and solved the problem.

In 1845 an inventor named Robert Thompson patented an air-filled tire, but pneumatic tires did not become widely used until the popularity of bicycles in the 1880’s. 1n 1888 John Dunlop patented a pneumatic tire.

In 1900 Harvey Firestone founded the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. He had grown up on a family farm in Ohio and worked for the Columbus Buggy Company. A natural entrepreneur, he saw a huge future in tires for automobiles.

With a background in farming, Firestone introduced pneumatic tires to tractors in 1932. The key was low air pressure and a wide tire surface with a “chevron” tread….. which as since become universal.

Allis Chalmers was the tractor company in 1932 that introduced the pneumatic tire to farming. In 2019, I had to re-inflate the tires on my lawn tractor and was surprised to see the recommended pressure of just 15 psi…. same as the tires on the 1932 Allis Chalmers tractors.

Photo of modern tractor tire courtesy of

Allis Chalmers

Originating as Reliance Works, a Milwaukee company started in 1847 as an iron works and machine shop, Allis Chalmers’s roots go back to the early days of industry in the midwest. The company made milling equipment, but when the lumber and flour industries declined in the Panic of 1857, it fell into bankruptcy. Edward P. Allis, who had made in money in the tanning industry, bought the company at a sheriff’s sale in 1861 and renamed it the Edward P. Allis & Company Reliance Works. The company grew into a major producer of industrial machinery, pipes, pumps, electric generators and steam engines. By 1900, the company employed 1,800 workers.

In 1901, Allis merged with three machinery manufacturers including the Fraser-Chalmers company in Chicago and emerged as the Allis Chalmers Company. They became the largest producer of gasoline engines and grew even larger with the acauisition of Bullock Electric Manufacturing Company. In 1910, a tractor division was established. Allis Chalmers then acquired the Monarch Tractor Corporation and the La Crosse Plow Company and by the 1930’s was a leading manufacturer of farming equipment.
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An Allis Chalmers at work in Harrison County Iowa in 1940. Photo by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration. Click on image to enlarge.
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An Allis Chalmers with planter and go-devil attached on a large farm near Ralls, Texas in May, 1939. Photo by Russell Lee. Click on image to enlarge.
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A day laborer cranks and Allis Chalmers to start the engine near Ralls, Texas, in 1939. Photo by Russell Lee. Click on image to enlarge.
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1940: A farmer and his son in Box Elder County, Utah drive an Allis purchased with a Farm Security Administration rehabilitation loan.
Click on image to enlarge.


© 2019 Phil Dickinson
Middletown, RI 401-847-2020

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