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Ford Tractors: Innovation Patterned After the Model-T

In 1903, the Ford Motor Company was founded with Henry Ford as the chief engineer and vice-president. Just 5 years later it would produce a very famous automobile known as the Model T. The Model T proved to be very profitable for the Ford Motor Company and Henry Ford had the same vision for the tractor business but the Ford board of directors didn't concur. They believed there was no sense in taking on a new risk when they were doing so well in Model T sales. This proved to be only a minor setback for Henry Ford and his vision for tractors.

Henry Ford was the son of a farmer so he understood what was needed in a tractor. Henry Ford continued to develop the Ford tractor in spite of business decisions. He and another engineer, Joseph Galamb, completed the first prototype of a Ford tractor in 1907 although it was not accepted by the board for commercial sales. Their first Ford tractor was not called a tractor at all. It was called an automobile plow because the word tractor was not yet a household word. This first Ford tractor used automobile parts as Henry Ford always was a strong supporter of standard and interchangeable components.

Henry Ford and his son set up a separate company for the Ford tractor. Because of the main company board's reluctance to get into the tractor business, Henry Ford and his son Edsel set up what would be known as the Henry Ford and Son Company or Fordson for short. Fordson was a separate company for the purpose of building tractors but when Henry gained full control of the Ford Motor Company in 1920 he merged the two. The Fordson name was still kept despite the merger.

The first of the Fordson tractors to be mass produced was the Model F. Mass production of the Model F began in 1917 during the period of America's involvement in World War I. The war created serious manpower shortages because many of the farmers had become soldiers and were fighting at the front. Fordson produced numerous tractor units as an answer to these shortages. Mass production was easy and inexpensive because of Ford's efficient assembly line processes.

Fordson quickly became the leader in tractors. During the first 10 years of tractor production in America, 750,000 units were sold. Plus, an overseas market grew with thousands of tractors being shipped to the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom.  By 1923, Fordson would realize a 77% share of the tractor market but later would experience increased competition from another tractor giant, International Harvester.

Fordson tractors were noteworthy for their smaller size. The other tractor manufacturers produced units that were larger because they believed they were more productive. The axle housing, engine, and transmission components of the Fordson tractor were assembled in order to build the basic structure. This was different from other tractor manufacturers that built their units beginning with a frame thus making a larger machine. This small size and usage of only necessary components made the Fordson tractor much more affordable and easier to build.

Fordson tractor manufacturing would eventually move overseas. Their span of production in the United States was from 1917 to 1928; however, between 1919 and 1932 they were manufactured in Cork, Ireland. Finally, Fordson tractor manufacturing was consolidated in Dagenham, England which continued to build the units from 1933 until 1964. Tractor assembly would end in the U.S. in 1928 however they were imported to American soil until 1939. In 1939, a line of tractors labeled as “Ford” were once again manufactured in the United States. Subsequent imports from England to the United States would be labeled as Fords. The Ford Motor Company finally sold their tractor division to Fiat Agri in 1993.

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