The Fordson model F tractor by the Ford Motor Company was the first agricultural tractor to be mass produced. It was a lightweight, frameless tractor with a vapouriser-fed engine and four metal wheels, but lacking a cabin.
Henry Ford achieved success with the Model T Ford, but he was not content to limit himself to cars. He was the son of a farmer and started work on a tractor for farm use. A prototype, called an "automobile plow", was built in 1907 but did not lead to a production model due at least in part to opposition from the corporate board. Tractor design was headed by Eugene Farkas and József Galamb.
As a result Henry Ford set up a separate company, "Henry Ford and Son Company" (referring to him and his son Edsel) and produced tractors under the Fordson name. Later, when Ford assumed complete control of Ford Motor Company in 1920, the two companies were merged. Ford's hometown of Springwells, Michigan renamed itself Fordson in 1925, although three years later it merged with neighboring Dearborn (where Ford Motor Company is presently headquartered). The name continues in the local school, Fordson High School, whose sports teams are called the Tractors.
Mass production of Fordson model F started in 1917. The Fordson came at the end of the First World War with its manpower shortages in agriculture, and utilizing Ford's assembly line techniques to produce a large number of inexpensive units, it quickly became the dominant model. Three-quarters of a million tractors were sold in the U.S. alone in the first ten years. Thousands were shipped to the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union where local production was soon started. Fordson had a 77% market share in the U.S. in 1923 before facing increased competition from International Harvester Corp.
Fordson Model F's were made in the U.S. between 1917 and 1928. They were produced in Cork, Ireland between 1919 and 1932 before production was consolidated at the Dagenham, factory in England, which built Fordsons between 1933 and 1964. 480,000 Fordsons were built in Cork and Dagenham between 1919 and 1952.
Harry Ferguson made a handshake agreement with Henry Ford in 1938 to produce "Ferguson System" tractors. This lasted until 1946 when the Ford Motor Company parted from Ferguson and a protracted lawsuit followed over use of Ferguson's patents. Ford lost the suit, which enabled Ferguson to produce his own designs in his own business.
Tractors bearing the Fordson name were produced in England until 1964 when they became simply Fords. After U.S. Fordson production ceased in 1928, Irish-built and later English-built Fordsons were imported to the U.S. This arrangement ended in 1939 with the introduction of the line of "Ford" tractors made in the U.S. for domestic sales. In the early 1960s, two models of Fordson were again exported from England to the U.S., although they were rebadged as Fords.
Starting the Fordson tractor
In cold weather early Fordson tractors were difficult to start because the oil congealed on the cylinder walls and clutch plates. It had to be hand cranked repeatedly with great effort. Strong men took turns cranking between intervals when the ignition was adjusted. Sometimes farmers would build a fire under the tractor to warm the crankcase and gear boxes for easier cranking. The tractor was fueled by kerosene, but gasoline was required to start it.
To get the tractor in motion, the gears had to be shifted and the clutch would not disengage fully to allow gear change. Once the gear change was accomplished by ramming the shift lever into position, and listening to the grating noise, the tractor would start forward immediately, requiring clear space ahead. The clutch had to be partially disengaged for a while, until the oil warmed and the clutch released.
Using the Fordson in the field
The Fordson could pull discs and plows that would require four mules to pull, and it could work all day long, provided the radiator was continually filled, the fuel replenished, and the water in the air filter tank was changed. The intake air was filtered by bubbling it through a water tank. On dusty days mud would accumulate in the water tank after a couple of hours of operation, and needed to be flushed out and the tank refilled.
The transmission, rear axle and engine served as the frame. Heat from the gearing would build up through the tractor making the iron seat hot, and the foot rests nearly unbearable. The exhaust pipe would glow. But the tractor would continue working until it wore out the rear wheel bearings, which had to be replaced after a few seasons of operation.
"Prepare to Meet Thy God"
Not only was the Fordson a challenge to start and operate, but it also quickly developed a bad reputation for its propensity to rear up on its hind wheels and tip over, which proved disastrous - and sometimes fatal - for its operator.
Ford Motor Company largely ignored the issue for several years as criticism mounted. One farm magazine recommended that Ford paint a message on each Fordson: "Prepare to Meet Thy God." Still another listed the names of over 100 drivers killed or maimed when their Fordsons turned over.
Much later Ford finally took heed and made modifications, such as extended rear fenders (dubbed "grousers") intended to stop the tractor from turning over, and a pendulum "kill switch" to cut engine power in such instances.
Fordson in the Soviet Union
In 1919 Ford signed a contract for a large consignment of Fordson tractors to the Soviet Union, which soon became the largest customer of the company. During 1921—1927, the Soviet Union purchased over 24,000 Fordsons. In addition, in 1924, the Leningrad plant "Red Putilovite" (Красный Путиловец) started the production of tractors Fordson-Putilovets (Фордзон-путиловец). These inexpensive and robust tractors (both American and Soviet models) became the major enticement for Soviet peasants towards collectivisation and were often seen on Soviet posters and paintings from these times.
List of Fordson models
- Fordson Model F (produced from 1917-1928 at Dearborn, Michigan and from 1919-1922 at Cork, Ireland)
- Fordson Model N (produced from 1929-1932 at Cork, Ireland and from 1933-1945 at Dagenham, England)
- Ford-Ferguson 9N
- Fordson All-Around (also called Fordson Row Crop, produced 1937 - at Dagenham)
- Fordson Major E27N (1945-1951, produced at Dagenham)
- Fordson New Major (1952-1958, produced at Dagenham)
- Fordson Dexta (1957-1961, produced at Dagenham)
- Fordson Power Major (1958-1961, produced at Dagenham)
- Fordson Super Major (1961-1964, produced at Dagenham, called the Ford 5000 in U.S.)
- Fordson Super Dexta (1962-1964, produced at Dagenham, called the Ford 2000 Diesel in U.S.)
Other Ford tractors
U.S. Fordson production ended in 1928. In 1938, Ford introduced the Ford 9N tractor using the Ferguson three-point hitch system. In 1942 Ford introduced the 2N model tractor. This was surprising because so much steel was being used to manufacture products for U.S. and allied troops during World War II. In 1948 the very popular 8N tractor was introduced. More than 500,000 8Ns were sold between 1948 and 1952. The 8N was replaced with the 1953 "Golden Jubliee" tractor. After 1964, all tractors made by the company worldwide carried the Ford name. In 1986, Ford expanded its tractor business when it purchased the Sperry-New Holland skid-steer loader and hay baler, hay tools and implement company from Sperry Corporation and formed Ford-New Holland which bought out Versatile tractors in 1988. In 1991 Ford sold its tractor division to FIAT with the agreement that they must stop using the Ford name by 2000. In 1998 FIAT removed all Ford identification from their blue tractors and renamed them "New Holland" tractors.
- G-numbers Army tractors