A Hundred Years of Value
(Page 2 of 5)
After the Fordson was introduced and sold widely, it was apparent that Ford did for agriculture what he had done for the auto industry: Just as the inexpensive Model T put many Americans behind the wheel, he made the tractor accessible to nearly all farmers. When U.S. Fordson production ended in 1928, more than 744,000 of the machines had been produced. Retail prices ranged from $800 to as low as $395 in 1922, when the River Rouge plant outside Dearborn, Mich., took over the final years of Fordson production in the U.S. The price dropped because the Rouge plant was an industrial monster, designed for raw materials to go in one side and finished cars, trucks and tractors to exit the other. The factory was larger than 1,000 acres and literally manufactured nearly everything that went into Ford products of that era. With production essentially under one roof, very few middlemen were involved and prices remained relatively low.
Fordson's U.S. production overwhelmed some other tractor manufacturers in sheer numbers, and it's a wonder that more Fordsons aren't around today. The number of add-on implements and odd, 'Rube Goldberg' contraptions made the little Fordson much more than just a blip on the radar screen of agricultural history. Noted Ford tractor authors Robert Pripps, Jack Heald, Larry Gay and John Ruff all suggest that the Fordson's disappearance from the tractor scene (and scarcity at antique farm equipment shows) may've resulted from the scrap-metal drives of the 1940s and the U.S.'s preparations for war, and not the result of faulty design or malfunction.
Fordson's dominance ended in 1928 when Ford decided to stop producing the tractor in the U.S. The exact reason for his decision is unclear, but some say there was a greater need in Europe for the farm machines, while others say Ford lost interest in the Fordson design. Henry Ford wouldn't build another successful agricultural machine until the 1930s. During the intervening years, Ford experimented with many odd tractor models and prototypes that never made it past the testing phase, including a strange, three-wheeled machine that one of Ford's engineers described as a 'row boat in a heavy sea.'
The Ferguson hand shake
Just when Ford seemed to be out of the farm machine market, along came tractor designer Harry Ferguson. Both Ford and Ferguson were cut from similar cloth. In a 2001 N-News article, Jim Dawson points out the many similarities between Henry Ford and Harry Ferguson, from their Irish heritage to their farming backgrounds, and even their mutual distrust of academia. Most importantly, both men were naturally gifted engineers and dreamers, and each man was strong-willed and highly idealistic. They also saw ways of improving on their own and others' -designs, an important trait in an ever-competitive agricultural machine market. In many ways, it's surprising that Harry and Henry agreed on anything because of their single mindedness. Yet, in February 1938, Ferguson demonstrated his three point hitch tractor to Ford in Dearborn, Mich. It wasn't their first encounter, however.
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