The Evolution of the Tractor


Since humankind’s earliest years, farming was a human and animal powered endeavor. As society evolved, farming equipment followed suit. From the reaper and equine pulled plows to the cotton gin and steam engine, working the land was still hard work but the methods became easier.

The engine was the cornerstone of the tractor, whether it be wood, coal, or even straw. As early as the mid-1800s, some variation of the steam engine appeared in fields to run equipment; however, it was not always optimal and may have still needed animal power. Also not many people could afford a portable engine. Here is how the American tractor has evolved over time:

The Tractor is Born!

Charles Hart and Charles Parr were selling two-cylinder gasoline engines in Iowa at the start of the 20th century. In 1903, their firm built the “first successful American tractor.” The Hart Parr Company actually coined the word tractor for advertisement purposes. However, not many farmers could afford the 14,000-pound invention.

Consumer Demand Increases and Price Decreases

By the 1910s, the gasoline powered machines began to catch on as the invention became smaller and more affordable. Although, the tractor did not really know where it belonged, would an agricultural company build it or an automotive company?

In 1917, Henry Ford began selling the mass-produced Fordson. 75 percent of the tractors purchased in the United States during 1923 were Fordsons. However, Ford’s stay would be short-lived. Almost 10 years later, in 1932, millions of lightweight tractors were sold and competition in the market narrowed. Half of the market was made up of only three companies: International Harvester, John Deere and Allis-Chalmers.



Now that the mold of the “modern” tractor was established, it was time to innovate. The three-point hitch was experimented with in the 1910s, but it was not until 1926 they became popular. Harry Ferguson, a British mechanic and the father of the three-point hitch, partnered with Henry Ford in 1938 to produce the Ford-Ferguson 9N tractor, which included the hitch and a rear Power Take Off.


Post World War II, other companies started innovating their own technology and the overall design. Allis-Chalmers began research into a fuel cell tractor in the 1950s. In the 1960s, International Harvester created the HT-340, a concept tractor that had a 90-pound turbine with 85 hp. The HT-340 was not a success but the hydrostatic transmission had real potential.


Also in the 1960s tractors became 4-wheel drive. The typical tractor with two big wheels and two small wheels could now be four big wheels.

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