Henry Ford is well-known as a pioneer of big industry, but
another defining trait was his deep appreciation for friends and
his altruistic, giving nature. Early home movies show Henry Ford
cavorting with some of these close friends as they picnicked or
camped in various outdoor locations. In the best-selling book,
Ford, the Man and the Machine, by Robert Lacy, photographs
eloquently depict ‘Ford’s vagabonds’ usually camping
out in the Smoky Mountains or the Adirondacks. These vagabonds
often included his close friends and business associates such as
Harvey Firestone, J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, John Burroughs
(famous naturalist), Luther Burbank – and especially his long-time
acquaintance and mentor Thomas Alva Edison.
Documents also show that during his lifetime Ford also gave away
200 cars, 23 trucks and 15 tractors to associates and friends –
including Edison. The Edison-Ford connection was particularly
strong since Edison gave the young industrialist his first job at
the Edison Illuminating Co., where he learned fundamental
engineering skills and became a lifelong friend of the
distinguished scientist/inventor. As a token of Ford’s
appreciation to his mentors, Edison and others were presented with
a Fordson tractor when they were released in 1918. Reynold Wik
wrote in his book, Henry Ford and Grass Roots America, that the
first production Fordson made on April 23, 1918, was shipped to
Luther Burbank in Santa Rosa, Calif. When it rolled into
Burbank’s yard, the famous botanist is said to have exclaimed:
‘It’s just like Ford, all motor and no frame.’
Reynolds Wik also said the second tractor off the assembly line
was given to Edison. While it’s not known what happened to most
of these Fordson gifts, an ‘Edison Fordson’ was recently
discovered. However, due to the date on the bill of sale, the newly
found Fordson contains a bit of a mystery.
Wik claims Edison’s Fordson was presented to him when the
tractor was initially released in 1918, but a bill of sale
indicates the recently discovered Edison Fordson was sold to
Edison’s son, Theodore, for $1 in April 1928. Few would doubt
the tractor was given as a gift (the $1 is believed to be the
bookkeeper’s charge for writing the contract).
The Edison Fordson’s serial number, 685593, positively
indicates the tractor was manufactured in 1927, most likely in
early June. However, that doesn’t mean Wik’s assertion that
Edison was given a Fordson in 1918 should be discounted. It’s
very plausible that Edison received one when the Fordson was
initially released in 1918 (that tractor has never been located)
and yet another at the end of U.S. Fordson production.
All in the Family
Phil Bochicchio, the Edison Fordson’s present owner – and
one-time neighbor to Theodore Edison – explains that Thomas Edison
asked that the tractor be put in Theodore’s name since the
scientist had no use for it: Edison was 81 years of age when the
second Fordson was acquired. Theodore owned acreage close to his
father’s home in Whippany, N.J., and Edison intended for his
son to use it around the farm for minor chores.
The 1928 Fordson remained on Theodore’s farm for many years,
and Phil’s father, Rocco, kept it in running shape for
Theodore, performing routine mechanical maintenance. In 1943,
Theodore’s wife, Ann, sold the Fordson to Rocco for $100. The
tractor was lost to obscurity for many years until very recently
when Phil pulled it from its years under sections of metal
The gift of a second Fordson to Edison seems rather odd, but
considering some key facts about Fordson production, the mystery
becomes a little clearer. In 1927, the last year of full
production, 9,500 Fordsons were assembled. Some 8,000 more were
finished in January 1928 before the Detroit Fordson plant was
After the factory shut down, all parts, equipment, engineering
sheets, etc., were shipped to Cork, Ireland, to expedite progress
on the ‘Improved Irish Fordson.’ Many of these Cork-built
models were subsequently shipped back to Canadian and American
Fordson dealers. It is also to be suspected that a few Fordsons
were left at the factory and that Ford, possibly wanting to clear
out inventory and much needed space for production of the new Model
A Ford automobile, gave a few away to friends and associates. Among
those recipients was Edison.
The enigmatic Edison Fordson’s history may be revealed when
more is known. But without additional documentation, or the first
Fordson gift or Edison’s own words, little else exists to
critically evaluate. Perhaps other Fordsons that Ford gave away to
other old cronies and friends (besides Burbank and Edison) will be
discovered some day with complete documentation. I wonder how many
present Fordson tractor owners have checked their engine numbers to
make sure they don’t own one of these prized presents?
As for this Edison Fordson, Phil plans to either donate it to a
New Jersey museum or place it in the hands of a collector to show
it at antique tractor shows.
Jack Heald is the national director of the Fordson Tractor Club.
Contact him at Fordson Tractor Club, 250 Robinson Road, Cave
Junction, OR 97523.
Keeping the Doodlebug Project Alive
Farmers from the 30s to the 50s built makeshift tractors called doodlebugs from available parts and pieces found on the farm.
Custom Built Cub Cadet Buggy
Check out Forest Spaulding’s custom-built buggy pieced together using several parts from a cub cadet and various other tractors.
Maytag Tractor, 29 Years Later
The son of the builder of a Maytag tractor featured in a 1989 article gives us an update.