Great American Tractors .com

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Ford Motor Company

Unlike most of the other tractor companies, Ford did not start out as a manufacturer of horse-drawn farm equipment. This is interesting because Henry Ford was born on a farm in Michigan. He actually hated farm work and disappointed his father by leaving home as a teenager to work as a machinist apprentice in Detroit. But after a couple of years, he returned to the farm and ended up becoming familiar with the workings of the Westinghouse portable steam engine, which by the 1880’s, had become useful farm equipment. With a vertical boiler and horizontal cylinder, it looked like a coffee pot on four wheels. These engines were towed by horses and performed stationary tasks. Ford ended up working for Westinghouse as a service technician.
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After supporting his family for a bit by farming and running a sawmill, Ford landed a job as engineer for the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit and was promoted to chief engineer in 1893. Over the next few years, he spent his spare time experimenting with gasoline engines, completing a powered vehicle he called the “Fort Quadricycle” in 1896.

With funding from a lumber tycoon, Ford founded the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899, but that company went under in about a year and half, having produced an inferior product. His next venture was the Henry Ford Company, which Ford left after a year. (After Ford’s departure, that company became the Cadillac Automobile Company.

With the help of fellow engineer/designer C. Harold Wills, and on the success of a racing car, and with new funding, Ford started the Ford Motor Company in 1903. The Model T, introduced in 1908, was a big success, and of course the company grew from there.

Because of his farm background, Ford wanted to build a farming tractor that any farmer could afford and started working on the design before the Model T Car hit the roadways. By 1916, he had working models, and the tractor went into production in 1917 with a contract for Britain, which had had to turn its production capacity into building planes to fight the Germans.

Meanwhile, another entrepreneur named Ford, introduced a Ford Tractor. That company didn’t last long, but it kept Henry from using his name for tractors. That is why the first tractors sold by the Ford Motor Company were name Fordson after Ford and his son Edsel.

In any event, the Fordson Model F proved very successful, producing 35,000 in 1918. By 1922 the Fordson tractor represented 70% of U.S. tractor sales. It had a 4-cylinder gasoline engine, a 3-speed transmission, and a worm gear final drive. Ford had designed the frame to contain moving parts in dust-proof oil-tight units, thereby reducing many problems with the early tractors.

The Model F had four wheels and looked a little like a modern tractor with the exception that the wheel were all steel with no rubber tires and instead sported metal spikes for traction in soil.

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A Fordson demonstration in 1922. Photographer unknown
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October, 1935. Commissioner Allen gets to try out the helm of a Fordson tractor. Photo by Arthur Rothstein. Click on image to enlarge.
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May, 1938. A farmer at Wabash Farms, Indiana oils his Fordson tractor. Photo by Arthur Rothstein. Click on image to enlarge.
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A Fordson dealer in Washington, DC in 1921. Photographer not known.
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© 2019 Phil Dickinson
Middletown, RI 401-847-2020

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