Fordson tractor

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Fordson Series
Fordson model F - side.jpg
Monument to Fordson model F
The Czech Republic
Manufacturer Henry Ford & Son, Inc
Ford Motor Company
Production 1917—1964
Assembly United States (1917—1928)
Cork, Ireland (1919—1932)
Dagenham, UK (1933—1964)
Body and chassis
Class Tractor
Fordson logo
Fordson tractor attached to a circular saw

Fordson was a brand name used on a range of mass-produced general-purpose tractors manufactured by Henry Ford & Son, Inc, from 1917 until 1920 when it was merged into the Ford Motor Company, which used the name until 1964. American engineer, inventor, and businessman Henry Ford built experimental tractors from automobile components during the early 20th century, and launched a prototype known as the Model B in August 1915. He formed Henry Ford and Son in 1910 in Dearborn, Michigan, taking his young son Edsel Ford as a partner, which was later incorporated on July 27, 1917.

Fordson Model F[edit]

The first Fordson Model F was completed in 1916 and was the first small, lightweight, mass-produced, affordable tractor in the world,[1] making it possible for the average farmer to own a tractor for the first time. Thus Henry Ford and colleagues had done again, for the tractor, what they had recently done for the automobile with the Ford Model T. The Fordson tractor went into mass production in 1917 and debuted for sale on October 8, 1917,[1] for $750. The original Fordson used a 20 horsepower, four-cylinder vaporising oil engine, a three-speed spur gear transmission (the three forward speeds ranged from approximately 214 to 614 mph), and a worm gear reduction set in the differential.

Success and economic recession[edit]

Despite several early design flaws and reliability issues such as engine failure and unbearable heat, the Fordson established a firm foothold on U.S. farms, with more than seventy percent market share in earlier years. By mid-1918, more than 6,000 Fordson tractors were in use in Britain, Canada, and the United States. Annual production reached 36,781 in 1921 and 99,101 in 1926. By 1925, Ford had built its 500,000th Fordson tractor. Ford was the only automotive firm to sell cars, trucks, and tractors simultaneously from 1917 to 1928, during which time 552,799 Fordson tractors were built at the Dearborn, Michigan factory. An economic recession and plummeting farm income depressed the market in 1925.

Production in Ireland and England[edit]

Ford Motor Company ended its U.S. tractor production on February 14, 1928 and transferred manufacture to Cork, Ireland in 1929 and later Dagenham, Essex, England. The Fordson brand was used on several other models manufactured in England the Major, Dexta, Power Major, Super Major, and Super Dexta until 1964. Afterwards, the Fordson brand name was discontinued and replaced with the Ford marque. Ford continued to manufacture and sell tractors until it sold the division to Fiat in 1991.


Early development[edit]

Henry Ford grew up in an extended family of farmers in Wayne County a few miles from Detroit, Michigan in the late 19th century. As his interest in automobiles grew, he also expressed a desire to "lift the burden of farming from flesh and blood and place it on steel and motors."[2][3] In the early 20th century, he began to build experimental tractors from automobile components. Four years after founding the Ford Motor Company in 1903, Ford finished his first experimental tractor in 1907 on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, referring to it as the "Automobile Plow".[2] Approximately 600 gasoline-powered tractors were in use on American farms in 1908.[4] Fordson tractor design was headed by Eugene Farkas and József Galamb, both involved in the design of the successful Ford Model T automobile.[5]

Henry Ford introduced a newly designed tractor known as the Model B in August 1915 at a plowing demonstration in Fremont, Nebraska.[4] It used a 16 horsepower, two-cylinder, horizontally opposed engine, a spur gear transmission and three wheels - two front drivers and one rear steerer.[2] The Model B was never produced, but did gain enough publicity to let the world know Ford was interested in developing a tractor.[2] Knowing there was demand for a Ford-built tractor, a group of entrepreneurs in Minneapolis organized The Ford Tractor Company.[2] The company did build and sell some tractors, but anticipated a settlement with Henry Ford for permission to use his name.[6] However, Ford did not give permission and formed his own separate company called Henry Ford and Son in 1910 in Dearborn, Michigan, taking his young son Edsel as a partner.[6]

F Series[edit]

An early Fordson discing a field in Princess Anne County, VA in 1925.

The Fordson Model F was completed in 1916 and was the first lightweight, mass-produced tractor in the world, making it possible for the average farmer to own a tractor for the first time.[6] Ford incorporated his private company, Henry Ford and Son, Inc, to mass-produce the tractor on July 27, 1917. At a hurriedly built factory in Dearborn, Michigan, he used the same assembly line techniques he used to mass-produce the Ford Model T.[7] It took thirty hours and forty minutes to convert the raw materials into the 4,000 parts used for the tractor assembly.[8] The Fordson sold for US$750; each cost $567.14 to manufacture (including labor, materials and overhead), leaving a profit of $182.86.[8]

It used a 20 hp (15 kW), four-cylinder vaporising oil engine, a three-speed spur gear transmission (the three forward speeds ranged from approximately 214 to 614 mph[8]), and a worm gear reduction set in the differential.[9] Brakes were not provided on early Fordsons as high-ratio worm sets generally transmitted rotation in one direction only, from the worm element to the gear element, because of the high power loss through friction. To stop the tractor, the driver depressed the clutch.[9] Ford engineer Eugene Farkas successfully made the engine, transmission and rear axle a stressed member of the frame. By eliminating the need for a heavy separate frame, costs were reduced and manufacturing was simplified.[10] The Fordson succeeded in being cheaper to maintain than horses, as the Ford Model T had previously done. A government test concluded that farmers spent $.95 per acre plowing with a Fordson compared to feeding eight horses for a year and paying two drivers, which cost $1.46 per acre.[11]


An early Fordson harvesting beets during the early 1940s.

The Fordson Model F was not without flaws it shared with other brands.[12] These problems included lack of weight, which allowed wheel slippage in some conditions, and the habit of rearing over backwards if the plow encountered an obstruction.[12]

Ford began shipping Fordson tractors to Ford Motor Company Limited in Britain in 1917 to meet an order from the British government for 5,000.[7] Between the time the order was accepted and when production started, Ford overhauled the design to solve several problems. The car-type radiator was enlarged to 11 US gal (9.2 imp gal; 42 L) capacity to cure overheating problems. The additional weight also helped hold the front down.[13] In early Fordsons, the worm drive was located at the top under the driver's seat. During heavy operation the heat became unbearable to the operator. The worm drive was relocated to solve this problem and also allowed larger rear wheels which improved traction.[13] Several changes were also made to simplify manufacture. The Fordson used the Model T coil magneto system; and water and oil pumps were eliminated in favor of the simpler thermosiphon cooling and splash lubrication.[13]

Despite design and assembly improvements, Fordsons still required a high level of maintenance. A farmer near Atlanta in 1921 listed the cost of his Fordson repairs for the year as $1,246.[14] He recorded problems in his diary, noting difficulty starting the engine, a broken wheel, engine failure and the rear end bursting throughout January, totaling costs of $1,301 for 620 hours of work.[14] A Colorado farmer telephoned his dealer three times a day to complain about his Fordson. The most dangerous feature would occur when a towed and powered implement became immoveable: the stoppage of the powered implement would cause a reaction through the transmission that would flip the tractor over backwards, sometimes killing the driver. This condition was introduced when the worm drive was relocated below the main drive pinion, relieving the driver from the heat it generated but also causing a torque on the tractor that lightened the load on the front wheels.[14] One Indiana farmer believed the Fordson to be so dangerous that it should have been banned by law. The Eastern Implement Dealer claimed that Fordsons killed 36 drivers in 1918. Pipp's Weekly further claimed that Fordsons had killed 136 men up to August 1922.[14] Ford spokesmen maintained the accidents resulted from inexperienced drivers, saying any tractor could be dangerous if improperly handled.[15] Satisfied customers praised the Fordson, saying it made farm work easier and performed ideally in orchards and truck farms.[15]

The "Hoyt-Clagwell" tractor on the TV sitcom Green Acres was a Fordson Model F. It was known to randomly 'explode' followed by one or both of the rear wheels falling off.


A 1917 Fordson Model F tractor
A 1936 Fordson Model N tractor

Ford established a policy in 1919 to loan Fordson tractors to educational institutions with vocational training programmes. Agricultural colleges could use a Fordson for six months and then exchange it for a new one. Under this arrangement, forty-two tractors were loaned to such universities as Cornell, Idaho, Michigan, Maryland and Prairie View State Normal in Texas. Others went to the orphanage at Nacoochee Institute in Georgia, the Berry School at Rome, Georgia and Camp Dix at Hutchinson, Kansas.[8] Ford signed a contract for a large consignment of Fordson tractors to the Soviet Union in 1919, which soon became the largest customer of the company. From 1921 until 1927, the Soviet Union purchased over 25,000 Fordsons.[16] In 1924, the Leningrad plant "Red Putilovite" (Красный Путиловец) started the production of Fordson-Putilovets tractors (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 during the era.

By mid-1918, more than 6,000 Fordson tractors were in use in Britain, Canada, and the United States.[10] After World War I ended, production began in Cork, Ireland, in parallel with U.S. production.[10] Fordson tractors quickly shaped the U.S. tractor market, and held over seventy percent of the market in earlier years.[17] Henry Ford bought out all the minority shareholders of Ford Motor Company in 1919, and then consolidated ownership in the Ford family: fifty-five percent in his name, forty-two percent in son Edsel's name and the remaining three percent in wife Clara's name. He merged Henry Ford & Son into the Ford Motor Company in 1920.[12] Annual production reached 36,781 in 1921[18] and reached 99,101 in 1926.[19] The Fordson established a firm foothold on U.S. farms and by 1925, Ford had built its 500,000th Fordson tractor.[12] Total production figures reached 650,000 by May 1927.[8]

A severe economic recession and plummeting farm income depressed the market in 1925. Ford Motor Company ended its U.S. tractor production and sales on February 14, 1928[18] and transferred manufacture to Cork in 1929 and later Dagenham, Essex, England.[12] Fordson tractors continued to be sold in the United States, where George and Eber Sherman became the leading importers of English-built Fordsons.[20] Ford was the only automotive firm to sell cars, trucks and tractors simultaneously from 1917 to 1928, during which time 552,799 Fordson tractors were built at the Dearborn, Michigan factory.[15][21]

After Fordson production was transferred to Cork in 1928, exports to the US were limited to 1,500 a month which restricted sales at Ford dealerships.[22] The original Fordson Model F tractor was eventually outsold by International Harvester, which offered a more efficient alternative and subsequently became market leader.[23] Competition from International Harvester and General Motors forced Ford to reduce the price of the Model F from $750 to $395. To compensate for the lower price, the company had to cut costs and strive for larger volume production.[24]

Fordson Model N Standard[edit]

The Fordson Model N replaced the Fordson Model F. Production of the Model N started in Cork in 1927. Production of the Fordson Model N was transferred from Cork to Dagenham in 1933. The Model N featured a 27 HP engine, standard rear fenders (mudguards), a higher voltage ignition system, and optional pneumatic tires. In 1935 power take-off (PTO) was available as an option on the Model N.

N Series[edit]

Main article: Ford N-Series tractor


Ford-Ferguson Model 9N

Development of new Fordson tractors remained mostly inactive for little over ten years after the end of its U.S. production in 1928, although Ford did experiment with a number of unsuccessful designs during the 1930s.[25] Ford's attention became consumed mostly by the development and introduction of his company's first V8 engine, which was introduced by Ford on March 31, 1932 and installed into Ford Model A body cars.[22] Ten months later, he introduced a new 1933 Model B body to surround the engine. These projects were nearly all consuming, leaving Ford little or no time for tractor development.[22]

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 Ireland, businessman Harry Ferguson had designed a tractor incorporating a hydraulic three-point hitch.[26] Eber Sherman, importer of Fordsons from Ireland to the US and a friend of both Ford and Ferguson, arranged to have Ferguson demonstrate his tractor for Henry Ford. In October 1938 the Ferguson tractor was put through a demonstration before Ford and his engineers. It was light in weight relative to its power, which impressed Ford.[26] Ferguson's successful tractor demonstration led to a handshake agreement with Ford in 1938, whereby Ford would manufacture tractors using the Ferguson three-point hitch system.[26]

Ford Motor Company invested $12 million in tooling to finance Ferguson's new distribution company.[27] The investment resulted in the production of the Ford-Ferguson 9N tractor which was introduced on June 29, 1939.[27] It sold for $585 including rubber tires, power take-off, Ferguson hydraulics, an electric starter, generator, and battery; lights were optional. Ford's 9N further improved the cantankerous Model F by updating the ignition with a distributor and coil. An innovative system of tire mounts for the rear wheels and versatile axle mounts for the fronts enabled farmers to accommodate any width row-crop work they needed.[27] The 9N weighed 2340 pounds and had 13 drawbar horsepower, which could pull a two-bottom plow.[26] It was designed to be safe, quiet and easy to operate. Ford once said "Our competition is the horse."; the 9N was intended for farmers who were not mechanically minded.[26]

An immediate success, the 9N's configuration became an industry standard, which was followed by other tractor manufacturers for fifteen years. Henry Ford passed leadership of his company to grandson Henry Ford II in 1945. By 1946, the younger Ford discovered that, despite its success, the Model N lost Ford Motor Company over $25 million in six years.[26] He reacted by forming Dearborn Motors in November 1946, which took over tractor distribution from Ferguson.[26] Ford informed Ferguson that after July 1947 they would no longer supply tractors to his company.[26] Ferguson sued Henry Ford II, Dearborn Motors and Ford Motor Company and others for $251 million in damages on the basis of patent infringements and conspiracy to monopolize the farm tractor business.[28] Ford Motor Company claimed the patents had already expired by the time of Dearborn Motors' incorporation.[28] Approximately 750,000 9Ns were built, and it was estimated in 2001 that nearly half of these were still in regular use.[25]

Harry Ferguson had understood that the handshake agreement had included the manufacture of the 9N in Britain. World War II intervened and prevented this, although one explanation was that Ford UK was uninterested in the plan.

2N and 8N[edit]

Ford 8N tractor
1947 Fordson Stegamajor
Fordson Major E1

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. The tractors were built because Henry convinced the War Production Board that tractors were essential to the war effort and the Board agreed.[citation needed] In 1947 the very popular 8N tractor was introduced. More than 500,000 8Ns were sold in America between 1947 and 1952. The 8N was replaced with the 1953 "Golden Jubilee" tractor.


The Fordson E27N Major was based on the Fordson N, and made in England from 1945, having the same engine and transmission as the Model N, but in a new casing which allowed for a PTO and a hydraulic lift unit manufactured by either Smiths or Varley. The differential however was of completely new design. For the first time Fordson owners could purchase a tractor from the dealer fully equipped with 3PL, PTO, full electrics and an adjustable-width front axle, allowing the tractor to work row-crops. Available in many different versions, one such as the crawler conversion made by County, and the half-tracked version by Roadless. from 1948 onwards the Perkins P6(TA) could be ordered fitted from the factory, giving the tractor a 45 hp power unit, and improving on the design that was let down by the under-powered petrol/TVO engine. In E27N was a popular Machine with Australian farmers, setting the way for large sales of the New Major (E1A).


Post-war shortages delayed the development of an entirely new tractor. In 1953, the E1A "New Major" entered production with an all new diesel engine. The 4D engine was designed and manufactured in UK at Dagenham and was available as diesel,gasoline, or kerosene. The tractor had a modified version of the E27N transmission. The driver sat significantly lower, which led to the E27N being nicknamed the 'High Major'. In 1958, - the Power Major - was introduced with 51.8 hp and an improved transmission and 'live-drive' hydraulics,[29] and then in 1960 the final version, the Super Major came out with a weight transfer system and differential lock. The Super Major was produced until 1964. These tractors were exported to the US - the first since 1939 - badged as Fords.


Meanwhile, a smaller new three-cylinder version which was named the Dexta had been launched to compete with the success of the Massey Ferguson 35, of which it shared the basic engine, gearbox and differential casings as well as many other parts. Both tractors featured the Perkins A3 engine, with a few differences. The engine was at 144 cubic inches in early Dextas, whereas later machines and all MF 35's had the 152 cid version. The two tractors also had different injector systems and many further differences despite their common platform. The gasoline version of the Dexta basically had the same Standard engine as the Ferguson TEA and FE 35, one difference being that the starter was relocated to the right side on the Dexta. Unlike the Ferguson, the gasoline Dexta had the same gearbox castings as the diesel version.

After 1964, the Fordson name was dropped and all Ford tractors were simply badged as Fords in both the UK and the US.


In 1926, Fordson demonstrated a Model F converted into a snowmobile, which they dubbed the "Snow-Motor".[30] The tractor used bullet-shaped screws instead of wheels to move across the snow. They were used (unsuccessfully) by Richard Byrd's first Antarctic Expedition.[31]

Later models[edit]

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 1999, Fiat removed all Ford identification from their blue tractors and renamed them "New Holland" tractors.

Machine operation[edit]

The early Fordson tractor engines were difficult to start. In cold weather it was a chore to start because the oil congealed on the cylinder walls and on the clutch plates. It had to be hand cranked repeatedly with great effort. Strong men took turns cranking between intervals when individual ignition coils were adjusted. Sometimes farmers would build a fire under the tractor to warm up the crankcase and gear boxes to make it crank easier. The tractor, when in use, was fueled by kerosene, but gasoline was required to start it. Once started, the trial was not over. To get it in motion, the gears had to be shifted and the clutch would not disengage fully from the engine to allow gear change. Once the gear change was accomplished by ramming the hand lever into position, and listening to the grating noise, the tractor would start forward immediately (there had better be clear space ahead). The clutch pedal had to be ridden for a while until the oil warmed up and the clutch released.

The Fordson could pull discs and plows that would require at least 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 changed. The carburetor air was filtered by bubbling it through a water tank. On dry days, mud would build up in the water tank after a few of hours of operation. The mud would then have to be flushed out and the tank refilled.

Rail Conversions[edit]

In an effort to displace both horses and steam from remote logging railways (bush trams), several enterprising inventors took the Fordson tractor and made modifications to allow them to run on rails. Extra bogies (wheel sets) were added behind and in front of some versions and acted as log bogies, whilst increasing traction on the light rail lines, without increasing weight. Dunedin company Trails Ltd used the Fordson F as a base, adding a reverser, so the tractor could operate either way at the same speeds, and a powered bogie to act as a powered log bogie. Wellington company Nattrass advanced this design, and both companies sales spelt the end to horse-operated bush trams in New Zealand. Nattrass also enjoyed sales in Australia. The last locomotive built by A & G Price, noted steam and diesel locomotive builder was completed in 1970, and used a Fordon Major E1 as a base.[32]


  • Fordson Model F
  • Fordson Model N
  • Ford Model 9N (Ford-Ferguson 9N)
  • Ford Model 2N
  • Ford Model 8N
  • Fordson All-Around (also called Fordson Row Crop)
  • Fordson Major E27N
  • Fordson New Major
  • Fordson Dexta
  • Fordson Power Major
  • Fordson Super Major (called the Ford 5000 in U.S.)
  • Fordson Super Dexta (called the Ford 2000 Diesel in U.S.)


  1. ^ a b Pripps & Morland 1993, p. 29.
  2. ^ a b c d e Pripps & Morland 1990, p. 13
  3. ^ Ford & Crowther 1922, pp. 26, 204, 278.
  4. ^ a b Flink 1990, p. 79
  5. ^ Bryan 2003a, pp. 105–123
  6. ^ a b c Pripps & Morland 1990, p. 14
  7. ^ a b Beemer & Peterson 1997, p. 10
  8. ^ a b c d e Wik 1972, p. 94
  9. ^ a b Pripps & Morland 1990, p. 17
  10. ^ a b c Klancher et al. 2003, p. 200
  11. ^ Leffingwell 1999, p. 331
  12. ^ a b c d e Beemer & Peterson 1997, p. 18
  13. ^ a b c Klancher et al. 2003, p. 199
  14. ^ a b c d Wik 1972, p. 95
  15. ^ a b c Wik 1972, p. 96
  16. ^ Leffingwell 1999, p. 336
  17. ^ Klancher et al. 2003, p. 195
  18. ^ a b Bryan 2003b, p. 77
  19. ^ Bryan 2003b, p. 79
  20. ^ Beemer & Peterson 1997, p. 23
  21. ^ Bryan 2002, p. 22
  22. ^ a b c Leffingwell 2003, p. 84
  23. ^ Gordon, John Steele (April 1992), "Henry Ford's horseless horse", American Heritage 42 (2): 14 
  24. ^ Beemer & Peterson 1997, p. 24
  25. ^ a b Ertel 2001, p. 56
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h Ertel 2001, pp. 54–55
  27. ^ a b c Leffingwell 1996, p. 99
  28. ^ a b Just Between Ex-Friends, TIME, January 19, 1948, retrieved May 29, 2008 
  29. ^ "Ford Tractor -- '53 Model." Popular Mechanics, January 1953, p. 120.
  30. ^ "Snowmobile of 1926". LiveLeak. Retrieved 2010-01-27. 
  31. ^ "With Admiral Byrd’s Second Antarctic Expedition: H.R.(Bob)Young’s Narrative Account of His Experiences Down South & Returning to Civilization". Oregon State University. Retrieved 2010-01-27. 
  32. ^ Mahoney, Paul (1998). The Era of the Bush Tram in New Zealand. Wellington: IPL Books. pp. 142–153. ISBN 0908876807. 


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