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The Tricycle-style Tractors of International Harvester

International Harvester was a familiar name in the tractor business for the better part of the 20th century. It does not make tractors today but continues to make heavy equipment such as school buses, trucks, and engines under the name International and owned by the Navistar International Corporation. International Harvester all started with Cyrus Hall McCormick who was an inventor of farming equipment such as plows and reapers. Let's look at the history of International Harvester and how it became one of the leaders in the tractor industry.

Cyrus Hall McCormick first decided to set up in Chicago in 1847. He and his brother set up the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. Not yet in the tractor business, he partnered with Charles M. Gray and built a factory on the Chicago River's north bank. At the time, Cyrus manufactured horse-drawn reapers which were popular among farmers. By the middle of the 1850s, he employed 250 workers at his plant, produced 2,500 reapers per year, and had sales over $300,000.

What seemed to be a disaster would open a new opportunity. A fire destroyed the North Chicago River factory in 1871 and Cyrus proceeded to build a new factory along the southern branch of the Chicago River. The outlook would only get better as he realized sales of over $1 million per annum and employed over 800,000 workers.

McCormick passed away in 1884 and transferred the company on to his wife and son. In 1902, his son would be involved in a merger between the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, Deering Harvester Company, Plano Manufacturing Company, and some other small agricultural companies to form the International Harvester Company. The International Harvester Company would go on to become a giant industrial firm in the United States.

The first tractor of International Harvester was the Farmall Regular. International Harvester would begin development of its row crop tractor at the beginning of the 1920s with the first prototype released in 1923. The Farmall Regular tractor had a design much like a tricycle and International Harvester was concerned that it would not set well with farmers nationwide. Thus, it released its first model of the Farmall tractor in Texas as a test; however, this test proved successful and in 1926 International Harvester went on to build its Farmall Works Plant in Rock Island, Illinois.

International Harvester then developed the F20 and later the Letter Series tractors. Until 1939, International Harvester produced the F-20 tractor as a replacement to the Farmall Regular. The F-20 it was still very similar to the Farmall Regular but slightly larger. The letter series tractors were A, B, H, and M and the company began producing them in 1939. The Letter Series tractors had a sleeker look as created by the industrial designer Raymond Loewry. The Farmall tractors were classified by the number of plows they could pull and marketed using those designations.

The year 1979 saw the beginning of instability for International Harvester. International Harvester began having cash flow problems and had to respond by implementing cutbacks in production. The cutbacks caused conflict with the United Auto Workers Labor Union and on November 2, 1979 they went on strike against International Harvester. By the time the six-month strike ended, International Harvester lost $600 million. Coupled with a poor economy, International Harvester saw the end around 1981 and in 1984, Tenneco, Inc. purchased the agricultural division of International Harvester. Tenneco had a subsidiary company named Case that already made tractors therefore tractor production was ceased at the Rock Island, Illinois Farmall Works and the J.J. Case Tractor Works in Racine, Wisconsin assumed all production of this equipment. Finally in 1986, what was left of the original company became Navistar International Corporation which continues to make heavy-duty vehicles and engines today.

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