Emergence of the Tractor
15 artifacts in this set
Threshing machine manufacturer J.I. Case introduced a portable steam engine in 1869. Farmers relied on these engines to power threshing machines and other machinery that saved labor on the farm. Draft animals pulled early portable engines from one job to the next, but by the late 1870s, Case was selling "traction engines" that used steam pressure to move themselves.
Coal or wood fueled traction engines proved difficult to maintain and operate. By the late 1800s, innovators had begun experimenting with internal combustion engines that ran on petroleum-based fuels. In 1910, the Gas Traction Company launched one of the earliest successful "tractor" brands, the "Big 4." The tractor, with 96-inch diameter rear wheels, ran on gas or kerosene and earned its name from the four-cylinder engine that powered it.
Large-scale wheat farmers discovered that steam-powered traction engines, used to power threshing rigs, could also pull plows. Huber Manufacturing Company established its reputation with threshing machines and the traction engines that powered them. In 1912, Huber introduced a 30-60 gasoline tractor that could pull plows with 30 horsepower and provide 60 horsepower as a stationary engine.
Throughout the 1890s, Benjamin Holt built steam-powered traction engines featuring continuous tracks instead of conventional wheels. These "crawlers" proved successful in soft and muddy soil as their tracks distributed the machine's weight more evenly. In 1908, Holt publicly demonstrated his company's first gasoline-powered tractor and by 1912 his "Caterpillar" models were well known.
Farmers threshed 625 million bushels of wheat in 1910. Threshing machines made by entrepreneur Meinrad Rumely helped get the job done. The Advance-Rumely Thresher Company launched its "Rumely OilPull" line of tractors in 1910 to help customers continue the conversion of prairie into large grain-growing operations. These tractors joined the market of other heavyweight machines collectively known as "prairie tractors."
Originally producing threshing machines and steam-powered traction engines, Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company entered the tractor industry in late 1910 with its own 25,000 pound "prairie tractor." Called the "Aultman-Taylor 30-60 Gas Tractor," the machine could pull up to 9,000 pounds. Aultman & Taylor claimed the 30-60 allowed farmers to work "much cheaper, easier and better than with horses and hired help."
Emerson-Brantingham Implement Company Newsletter, Volume 1, Number 7, March 1913, "Emerson Enthusiasm"
Emerson-Brantingham Implement Company began in the 1850s with John Henry Manny, an inventor whose innovative grain harvesting reaper laid the foundation for American agriculture's mechanical revolution. Starting in 1912, Emerson-Brantingham entered the competitive "tractor" industry by acquiring existing companies, including the Gas Traction Company and its successful line of "Big 4" tractors.
A. B. Farquhar Co. Catalog, 1914, "Farquhar Machinery: Engines, Boilers, Steam & Gas Tractors, Saw Mills, Threshers"
The A.B. Farquhar Company, known for building a wide variety of agricultural machinery, began selling its own gas-powered tractor in 1913. The tractor's main selling feature was its ability to pull plows, but the company also advertised its utility in road building. Farmers bore responsibility for rural road improvements during the 1910s, and tractors facilitated that work.
The Bull Tractor Company introduced its three-wheeled “Little Bull” in 1914. Small-scale farmers with limited capital could justify purchasing the small, lightweight tractor, which sold for a fraction of the cost of larger tractors. The “Little Bull” revolutionized the farm tractor industry and its popularity prompted Allis-Chalmers to produce a smaller tractor, but their 10-18 model did not sell well.
Farmers that cultivated thousands of acres of flat or rolling land could justify investing in large "prairie tractors," but most farmers with smaller and hillier land holdings could not. In 1914, Case introduced its Case 12-25 model to target a new market. Advertisements declared, "You who farm with horses, no matter how small your acreage, cannot afford to keep to the old way of doing things."
The Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company formed in the 1890s around John Froelich’s invention: the first gasoline-powered "tractor.” Froelich's tractor failed to sell, and Waterloo waited until 1912 to re-enter the tractor market. In 1914 Waterloo introduced the kerosene-fueled Model R "Waterloo Boy." The success of this smaller tractor line enticed farm implement manufacturer Deere & Co. to purchase Waterloo in 1918.
Union soldier Robert Avery passed his time in Andersonville, the Confederacy's infamous prison camp, sketching designs for a corn planter in the sand. After the war, Avery partnered with his brother and successfully manufactured his corn planter design. By 1912, Avery Company had its own line of "prairie tractors," and like other companies of the time, introduced a smaller 8-16 model in 1914.
“The Great Minneapolis Line" from Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company first featured large "prairie tractors," but by late 1915 included a smaller model known as the "15." Advertisements stated that the "15" was "designed to meet the rapidly increasing demand for a thoroughly reliable, light-weight tractor suitable for general work on the medium sized farm in a satisfactory and economical manner."
International Harvester Company Book, 1918, "Internal Combustion Engines and Tractors: Their Development, Design, Construction, Function and Maintenance"
The fierce rivalry between agricultural machinery manufacturers McCormick and Deering ended in 1902 when the companies merged and created International Harvester Company. International Harvester produced the commercially successful Mogul 8-16 tractor in 1914, and the more popular Titan 10-20 tractor in 1916 -- eventually selling 78,000 of them.
Henry Ford had experimented with lightweight tractors since 1907, and in 1917 applied his innovative assembly line process to their production. His "Fordson" tractor undercut the price of every other model on the American market when sales began in 1918. Affordable and versatile, the mass-produced Fordson was immensely popular with the average farmer -- Ford produced over 700,000 units by 1928.