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Reprinted with permission of the Capital Times, Madison, Wisconsin, from a 1958 edition. We thank Maryanna Smith of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for sending it. Ed.

Did you know that Madison was the birthplace of the tractor?

During the 1890s there were a great many young men doing a great amount of what their elders preferred to call 'tinkering' in a great number of sheds, shops and stables all around the world.

There was Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan; the Wright brothers in Dayton, Ohio; Guglielo Marconi in Italy; Ruldph Diesel in Germany, and countless others who were not fortunate enough to have history remember their names.

And there were two young men doing some important tinkering right here in Madison. Their names were Charles Walter Hart and Charles H. Parrnames which deserve to be more widely known than they are today, especially when the impact of their owners' contributions is considered.

Hart and Parr are now credited with having designed and built the first successful gasoline-powered tractor, the machine which was the greatest innovation in farming since the steel plow and caused a revolution in agriculture by placing undreamed of power in the hands of the farmer.

The application of the internal combustion engine to the tractor by Hart and Parr did not come out of a fortunate accident as many inventions have. It was something they knew they wanted to do and they set about carefully and purposefully to accomplish it. Most of the groundwork for their triumph was done while they were students in the Department of Mechanical Engineering of the University of Wisconsin.

Hart, the son of a moderately wealthy Iowa farmer-businessman, met Parr, from Wyoming, on the former's first day at the U.W. in September, 1893. Hart was sitting in the ante room of the registrar's office when Parr came in on an errand. They struck up a conversation and soon found that they shared the same interest and zeal for mechanical devices. They became great personal friends as well as business associates.

Hart had transferred to the U.W. because of its fine reputation in mechanical engineering after spending one year at Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (now Iowa State University). Another factor in this move may have been the desire of his recent bride to be nearer her family. Hart had married Jessee Marvin Case of West Allis, Wisconsin on St. Valentine's Day, 1893. They had two children before she died at the age of 28 in 1903.

While attending the University, Hart and his wife lived at 915 University Avenue, and Parr roomed at 424 N. Frances Street.

Several months after their first meeting Hart and Parr opened a small machine shop where they repaired damaged farm implements and began experimenting with the principles of the internal combustion engine.

One of the requirements for a degree in mechanical engineering was 'original investigation that would contribute to the knowledge of engineering or the design and construction of a device useful to industry.'

Hart and Parr decided to collaborate on a thesis detailing the design of a new type internal combustion engine. They did not receive much encouragement from their professors since, in those days, steam was considered the last word in power, and the entire mechanical engineering curricula was steam-oriented.

To accompany their paper, 'An Investigation of Internal Combustion Engines,' Hart and Parr built a working model of their engine in the U.S. shop. The result was an internal combustion engine which was a vast improvement over previous ones in power and efficiency. It was rugged, light in weight, and simply-built with a minimum of moving parts.

But the young inventors did not wait for the professors' acceptance of their thesis . Even before graduation they started manufacturing portable commercial models of their engine for farm use.

Wisconsin was, then as now, a great dairying state, and the idea of cooling milk immediately after milking was just gaining favor with the creameries. Milk was cooled by immersing it in cold running water. The water for this was provided by windmill-driven pumps, but, of course, the wind does not always blow. Hart-Parr engines came into their first wide use augmenting the wind.

News of the efficiency of the Hart-Parr engines spread rapidly among Madison-area farmers and soon the little shop had more orders than it could handle.

Upon graduating from the University in 1896, the partners expanded their operation and devised improvements and new applications for their original engine. All Hart-Parr devices of the period were first tested and used commercially in and around Dane County.

While the business grew and prospered on the sales of their versatile little power plant, Hart and Parr plunged into work on a heavier, more powerful engine suitable for traction purposes. This was a startling idea for its time since no one had ever been able to make an internal combustion engine that could move its own weight, let alone pull something else along.

The first Hart-Parr tractor and the first gasoline-powered tractor anywhere, was completed early in 1901. 'Old Number One' as the machine came to be called, was a monster for its era. It weighed five tons, developed 22 to 45 horsepower, pulled five plow bottoms, and ground along on huge cleated tires made of wood. It was still giving good service 20 years later.

A few months later, convinced of the future of the tractor, Hart and Parr decided to build a new, specially-designed plant for its manufacture. They were going to put up most of the capital, and approached certain local financiers for the remainder. But it was still the day of the horse, not the engine, and the money-men withheld their support.

Disappointed, Hart and Parr closed their shop and went to Hart's home town, Charles City, Iowa, where, with the aid of Hart's father, they got the necessary capital and built their plant.

Hart-Parr continued to prosper and it still survives today as part of the Oliver Corporation and an important producer of mechanized farm equipment.


(Hart-Parr progress is further related in this information provided by Cal Overlee, Manager, Technical Publications, for the White Farm Equipment Company's Technical Center at Libertyville, Illinois. Hart-Parr merged with Oliver and the succeeding corporation is now a wholly owned subsidiary of White Farm Equipment Company.)

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1896 they started a small stationary gas engine factory at Madison, Wisconsin, which operated successfully to 1900. Needing more capital and a larger factory, they moved in 1900 to Charles City, Iowa, Mr. Hart's boyhood home. The first factory buildings were completed there in 1900-1901.

Immediately Hart and Parr started working on their idea of an internal combustion traction engine. In the spring of 1902 they completed old Hart-Parr Number 1, the first successful internal combustion traction engine ever built. It was powered with a valve-in-the head, oil cooled, slow speed, two cylinder, horizontal engine developing about 22-45 horsepower. It was sold to an Iowa farmer in 1902 and successfully operated on Iowa farms for 17 years, proving that the new type of farm power was practical. In 1903 the little company built fifteen gas traction engines of 22-45 horsepower. Five of them were still in successful farm operation in 1930proof of correct engineering and quality work.

The first advertisement ever published, which called the attention of the public to the new gas traction engines for farm and threshing purposes, was run by Hart-Parr in the 'American Thresherman' in December, 1902. The first trade paper advertisement ever published calling attention of implement dealers to the profits possible through the sale of tractors was published by Hart-Parr in the 'Implement Trade Journal' of Kansas City in the summer of 1907. Today millions are invested yearly by the farm equipment industry advertising tractors and tractor operated equipment.

The first engines built by Hart-Parr in 1896 were valve-in-head engines, years before the automobile world claimed that type as their own creation. All Hart-Parr tractors have always been powered with valve-in-head engines. To Hart-Parr goes credit for their development.

The first engines built by Hart and Parr at the University were cooled with oil. They originated the idea in this country. They used it consistently until 1917, when it was displaced for water cooling, to eliminate extra weight in light tractors.

In 1905 Hart and Parr perfected the first successful system of burning low grade kerosene for fuel. They developed the water injection system to prevent preignition, and in 1906 equipped all their tractors with this new device.

Hart-Parr staked its future on the new gas traction engine. Because originally no other company was even experimenting on gas traction engines except as a side issue, Hart-Parr has been given the proud title, historically correct, of Founders of the Tractor Industry.

By 1907 Hart-Parr had standardized on the 30-60 type of traction engine. That year in an effort to distinguish their gas traction engines from the competing steam traction engines of that day, they advertised their engines as TRACTORS. The name stuck. The public accepted it. Today it is the name of the industry, an industry that has revolutionized agricultural production methods, lowered production costs, and largely driven human drudgery from the farm. The industry employs tens of thousands of men and turns millions of dollars into productive channels yearly.

At the time of the merger with Oliver in 1929 Hart-Parr was recognized as the largest exclusive manufacturer of farm tractors in the world.

The Hart-Parr No. 1 tractor of 1902 (not 1901) was not the first gasoline-powered tractor built in the United States; many others preceded it, and, in fact the first in the nation was constructed in 1892 by John Froelich, an Iowa blacksmith-farmer. The J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company of Racine, Wisconsin, was selling several models of tractors by 1895 after developing an unsuccessful experimental model in 1892. English tractors with oil-burning engines appeared in 1897.

Hart and Parr, however, were the first commercial mass-production, assembly-line manufacturers of agricultural tractors in the United States. That is why justly they earned the title, 'Founders of the Tractor Industry.'

They never received credit for the idea. But Hart and Parr largely achieved their fame on the American tractor-farm scene during the turn of the century for being the first on record to equip their machines with kerosene carburetors in the year 1904-05, thus cutting operators' costs in half. They also were the first on record to install oil-cooled radiators on tractors for the dispensing of engine heat.

Many historical pieces incorrectly identify the Rumely Oil Pull as possessing the first oil-cooled, kerosene-fired engine. The truth is the Rumely tractor was a copy or replica of what Hart-Parr had accomplished years before.

The article suggests that the first Hart-Parr tractor was built in Madison. Parr, who authored a well-documented history of the Hart-Parr Company in 1918, wrote that the first Hart-Parr machine was assembled at Charles City, fully six months to a year after the partners had left Wisconsin. Madison, Wisconsin really can claim little of the credit. In fact, it was Madison's inhospitable attitude on industrial development that induced the partners to seek a more favorable business climate in Iowa.

Parr was not from Wyoming, as the article states, but from Wyoming, Wisconsin. He, as Hart, had learned his skills on his father's farm. He became a machinist in Wisconsin before matriculating at the University of Wisconsin where he met Hart.

These are the major errors in what otherwise is a pretty good explanation on what transpired during Hart and Parr's early years in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A few other facts:

Hart and Parr's experimental gas engines developed at the University of Wisconsin had 'valve-in-head' or overhead valves (although the partners didn't use those words as a description). This was an innovation that was years ahead of the auto industry that normally claims credit for the principle. My research has not revealed who were the inventors of the first overhead valves; but Hart and Parr certainly were among the first to perfect the idea.

The partners also were recognized in the tractor industry for pioneering the 'two-lunger' or double-lung horizontal engine, a practical concept that dominated for a half century the agricultural tractor in the United States.

It is true, as some historians have written, that the Hart-Parr tractor never was patented per se; but Hart did patent certain of the tractor's important components, including in 1904 the oil-cooling radiator. Oddly, finally in 1915 (after filing in 1909), Hart earned a patent on his kerosene carburetor, which employed the twin injection of kerosene and water. Thus, he was the conceiver of the first 'atomizer' as we know by name such devices today. Hart's tractor patents continued into the 1920s.

Readers may ask by what authority the writer makes his statements. For the past three years, I have researched the Hart-Parr history. My mother is Charles W. Hart's eldest daughter by his second marriage and she lives at a rest home at Helena, Montana. Her recent illness with senility prompted me to get the story down on paper while there still are relatives around who knew C. W. Hart. Much of my research revolves around interviews with Hart's namesake son, Charles W. 'Chick' Hart of Missoula, Montana.


We sent a copy of the Capital Times article to Jack Gilluly, a Hart grandson, who sent in an article of his own with corrections and editions. Jack is editor of THE ENERGIZER, the employee's magazine of Montana Power Company. He is writing a Hart-Parr history. You can reach him at 820 W. Third, Anaconda, MT 59711.