Tractor Evolution: The Quick and Dirty
According to dictionary.com a tractor is a powerful motor-driven vehicle with large, heavy treads, used for pulling farm machinery or other vehicles. This definition seems obvious to most, but we all know that there is a population of city dwellers who have never seen a tractor in action. Let’s face it without tractors the world of agriculture and farming as we know it would not exist and many of us would go hungry! At times we can easily take the tractor for granted, so let’s take a look at our beloved tractor’s history.
In 1769 James Watt earned himself the title of “the inventory of the steam engine”. These first true steam engines when used combined with tractors were large bulky machines that took a lot of care to run at a sluggish pace with very minimal maneuverability. However, these first steam engine tractors showed the country how beneficial farming with machines could be in a time when actual horse power was king.
The first gasoline combustion engines proved to be a good alternative for steam powered tractors, but the first gasoline engines were stationary and were used for simple chores such as pumping water, and washing clothes. It wasn’t until 1903 when Charles Hart and Charles Parr produced the first gasoline engine tractor when the two were engineering students at the University of Wisconsin. Of course these first models were still very large, very expensive, and ran on steel wheels or tracks, which turned out to be less than ideal. Then, shortly after other large manufacturers began popping up, including International Harvester, Case, Deere and Rumely, which allowed tractors to become smaller and cost less. Plus, we can’t forget about Henry Ford and his Fordson Tractor, which sold fairly well thanks to the onset of the First World War. However, Ford got out of tractor manufacturing when the production lines were needed to make the new Ford automobiles.
The tractor continued to evolve to a smaller and more manageable machine until the common general purpose tractor was first introduced around 1925 by International Harvester. These general purpose tractors had features that were very appealing to farmers including a higher ground clearance, smaller more maneuverable front wheels, and an overall reduced weight. As this type of tractor grew in popularity other competitors began popping out of the wood works as well to jump on the bandwagon, including Deere and Massey-Harris. Around this same time farmers also were introduced to the first rubber tractor tires, which spread like wildfire in the farming industry. Within the next decade the general purpose tractor had proved that it was here to stay and this design is still seen in the modern general purpose tractors. Plus, we all most likely know of some farmers who are still using these early model tractors, which is a true tribute to their design and overall contribution to modern day farming.
Of course there is much, much more to the history of tractors and thousands of different models but that is something that I invite you to explore on your own. I know if you spend enough time with tractors, as most farmer do, you will truly appreciate their longevity and contributions to the agriculture industry.