The Fordson Tractor

By Staff
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Lord Alfred Northcliffe and Henry Ford (far right) view aplowing demonstration with Fordson tractors.
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A cross-section view of the Fordson tractor.
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The Fordson pilot model as pictured in July 1917.
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The Fordson tractor plant in Dearborn surrounded by water ponds,the remains of the Wagner brickyard which formerly occupied thesite. At the far right is the power house which housed a 350 hpHoover-Owens-Rentschler, Corliss-type steam engine (15 X 30 X 36).In 1927 the buildings were torn down to make room for Ford'snew engineering laboratories. A new powerhouse was built but theCorliss engine remained in its original location, where it stillsits today.
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Ford tractor production in 1919.
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A Fordson tractor in 1927 belted to a twin cylinderair compressor.
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Ford tractors in use.
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A current Ford product, the tractor-loader-backhoe industrialpackage. This is probably not its intended use, but it demonstratesthe ruggedness and brute power of today's tractors.

On October 8, 1967, Ford Motor Company marked its 50th
Anniversary of tractor production. Production of the Fordson
tractor started in Dearborn in 1917, but the first 7000 units were
made for England and it was not until the spring of 1918 that
American farmers were able to buy the model.

The company’s founder, Henry Ford, was born on a farm and
throughout his life he had always shown an interest in agriculture.
“One foot in industry, one foot in the soil,” he said. “The farmer does not stand so much in need of new tools, as of
power to run the tools he has. I have followed many a weary mile
behind a plow and I know all the drudgery of it.”

Starting as early as 1907, Ford had experimented with one design
after an other and at times he was close to what he thought a
tractor should be. Others too had experimented, and by 1912 such
makes as International Harvester, Case, Moline, and Little Giant
were already well known. These, even though using the internal
combustion engine, were big, heavy, hard to maneuver and expensive.
Ford’s idea of a tractor was similar to that which he had
incorporated in the automobile. It had to be light, sturdy, and
cheap enough so most farmers could afford it.

By 1915, Ford seemed to be close to this goal. A new model he
had demonstrated was hailed as a success and as a result he
assigned an engineer, Eugene Farkas, to spend full time on tractor
development. Farkas designed an improved machine, featuring
castings which were strong enough to support the entire tractor,
eliminating the frame. It weighed only 2500 lbs. and used 42 inch
drive wheels in the rear and 28 inch wheels in front for steering.
It was powered by a 4-cylinder, 20 hp motor and drove through a
multiple disc clutch and a three-speed transmission. The model was
demonstrated in the summer of 1917 and it was an instant
success.

The development of the Ford tractor attracted the attention of
the English government. England, as a result of the 1914-1918 World
War, was on the verge of a food crisis and the tractor appeared as
a possible solution for both the man-power and horsepower shortage.
Lord Alfred Northcliffe on a mission to the United States, visited
Ford to press for production of the tractor for the British war
effort. A contract was negotiated and Ford agreed to ship 7,000
tractors to England as fast as they could be built.

At his own expense, Henry Ford had purchased the Wagner
brickyard in Dearborn, where he established an experimental shop.
When he could not get company director support in the tractor
enterprise, he and son Edsel formed a new company, Henry Ford and
Son, for the purpose of manufacturing tractors and agricultural
implements at the Dearborn site. The tractor was named the Fordson.
A few years later Henry Ford bought out all other Ford Motor
Company stockholders and the Henry Ford and Son Corporation became
part of Ford Motor Company, but the name of the “Ford-son”
tractor was retained.

The Fordson production was started on October 8, 1917.
Production was slow at first, but by April of 1918 the 7000 units
for England had been completed, and production output was 64 units
per day. Ford now turned to the American market. By June 1918,
production was increased to 131 units per day. Ford’s
automotive assembly line methods had brought about the world’s
first mass-produced tractors.

In addition to the farmer, the versatility of the Fordson
tractor was quickly recognized by contractors. Reversing the
progress of the Model T, use of the Fordson tractor
spread from the farm to the highway and to the city. Production
reached 70,000 units in 1920 and it was decided to move the entire
operation to the giant Rouge plant. There was a light production
drop in 1921 and 1922 as a result of the move, but in 1923 it rose
to 101,898 units and it reached an all-time high of 104,168 in
1925.

Somewhat parallel to the story of the Model T, the
Fordson production era came to an end in early 1928. From 1917 to
the end in 1928, its design remained practically unchanged; in all,
739,978 units were assembled. Many of these tractors are still in
existence and since some are now coming in the hands of us
collectors, it is obvious that the Fordson tractor will live
forever.


George De Angelis has been employed with Ford Motor Company for over 27 years, starting as an apprentice tool and die maker. His interest in early engines and antique automobiles started in 1954. Even though he favors restoring old Fords, he owns several other makes of cars and over a dozen early engines. He is a member of the Early Engine Club in Dearborn, editor of the Model A Restorers Club magazine, and “Ford Facts” editor of the Antique Automobile magazine.

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