John Fitch Attempted to Revolutionize the Farm Tractor Market with the Four-Drive

| June 2005

Who built the first four-wheel drive tractor is a mystery, but the Fitch Four-Drive may very well be a likely candidate. It all started after John H. Fitch had to rescue one too many passenger cars from Mother Earth's muddy surface near his farm. Fed up with this pattern, he figured there had to be a better solution. That's when he made the decision to create a four-wheel drive machine, in the form of a tractor.

In February 1915, Fitch completed his first tractor and headed out to test its ability on the hills of his Riverton Township, Mich., farm. All the locals came out to watch as he traversed the countryside with ease. The next day he drove his tractor to Ludington, Mich., seven miles away. When he saw what his tractor could do, and the impact it made on the local people, he decided to build them commercially. So he headed back to the shop to build a tractor, as well as a truck model, to debut in Detroit in March of 1915.

The Four-Drive Tractor Co. was incorporated in 1915 at a cost of $50,000, over half of which was paid in capital. In 1916, its capitalization was increased to the tune of $200,000.

Gaining Notoriety

Growing in popularity, the Fitch Co. was offered a deal from the town of Big Rapids, Mich.: A new manufacturing facility and power for five years to operate their business, in exchange for the company moving their operation to Big Rapids. Obviously a foolish offer to turn down, Fitch made the necessary arrangements and moved to Big Rapids in 1916, to a 45-by-200-foot building, in addition to a 30-by-40-foot blacksmith shop. When Fitch moved to Big Rapids to oversee his company's operations, he left his family behind to tend to the farm.

In March 1916, Motor Age magazine published a story on the Four-Drive that helped tremendously in putting the company on the map. Fitch moved into their new facility in April and were producing five to six tractors per day. This being during the first World War, iron was scarce, which slowed production of their many orders. During down time, individual parts, as well as completed machines, were meticulously tested to give the customer the best possible product.

The spring of 1917 was to bring the tractors to market by storm. Although off to a slow start, by 1919, Fitch began making a name for itself, selling its entire 1920 line in 1919! However, this was short-lived, as the company began struggling with financial difficulties. This continued through the 1920s, and it's been said the last Four-Drive tractors were produced in 1929 or 1930, shortly after the stock market crash that began the Great Depression.


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