F. Crozier was almost certainly not the only farmer to cuss the Ford Model B
tractor. But turning lemons into lemonade, he was the only one to convert a bad
experience into a consumer protection agency that endures today: the Nebraska
Tractor Test Laboratory in Lincoln.
on a name
story of the Ford Model B tractor begins well before a Nebraska farmer kicked one in his field. W.
Baer Ewing was the driving force behind
establishment of Ford Tractor Co. In Standard Catalog of Farm Tractors,
author and historian C.H. Wendel notes that prior to 1915 Ewing organized
several companies, including Federal Securities Co., Minneapolis, which sold securities in Power
Distribution Co. But when the bonds came due, bondholders had trouble getting
Tractor Co. was another of Ewing’s
enterprises, apparently intended to capitalize on the well-known name of
automaker Henry Ford. “In 1916,” Wendel writes, “virtually anything that had
‘Ford’ on the nameplate found a ready market.”
according to an Aug. 2, 1917, account in the New York Times, witnesses
testifying during an investigation of Ewing’s company revealed that Ewing, in establishing a tractor company, was “largely
interested in a tractor that promised large financial returns. Even if the
company’s business of making and marketing automobiles did not enable it to get
up on its financial feet, it was said, the tractor business would assure it.”
first became interested in the Lion tractor manufactured by Lion Tractor Co., Minneapolis, in 1914-15.
He became associated with D. Maurice Hartsough, inventor of the Lion tractor.
After a short time, Ewing severed his connection
with Hartsough. During that time, the Lion company was entangled in a patent
litigation case. It’s possible that suit (which began in 1915 and was resolved
by 1917) caused Ewing to look elsewhere for a
tractor company he could invest in. Whatever the reason, Ewing’s
relationship with Lion was short-lived.
Ewing later employed a man named Kinkaid to make a
tractor, but the first prototype wasn’t much good, one observer noted, “because
it wouldn’t run in a line.” But it was good enough for Ewing’s
purposes. It’s unknown whether Ewing
deliberately sought out Paul B. Ford or simply stumbled on an opportunity.
However it happened, in the June 1917 edition of Tractor and Gas Engine
Review an article mentioned a young electrician named Paul B. Ford who was
working for a “local concern and knew little or nothing of tractors.” In spite
of Ford’s lack of experience with any type of farm equipment, Ewing invited him
to become part of what Ewing established as
Ford Tractor Co. of South Dakota. At the outset, the company was capitalized
for $1,000,000 ($21,230,000 today).
advertisements published in 1917, Ford Tractor Co. claimed that, “Mr. Paul B.
Ford, inventor and designer of the Ford tractor, has devoted years of his life
to its study. He nurtured the idea until he found men who were willing and able
to convert his ideas into a reality. When Paul B. Ford, of Minneapolis, gave the world the farm tractor
that bears his name, he rendered a great public service to mankind.” In fact,
he did nothing more than lend his name to a tractor built by Kincaid and
heavily influenced by D. Maurice Hartsough’s designs.
a January 1916 edition of Modern Woodman Magazine, the editor wrote,
“Since last July, the Ford tractor that takes its name from Paul Ford, one of
its inventors, has been on the market as an output of Ford Tractor Co. of
Minneapolis. Through the courtesy of Chas. N. Bigelow, head of the agency
department, we show a cut of the tractor. The Ford tractor has been in actual
use in the field all summer. Gasoline or motor spirit can be used, and the
motor is a 16-horsepower, 2-cylinder, 4-cycle, of the opposed type. The
steering principle of this tractor, the company claims, is unique and simple,
as in plowing the right wheel follows the furrow, and with the steering wheel
set, little attention is required of the operator. The Minneapolis
company making this tractor has no connection whatever with the Ford motor
company of Detroit.”
the Modern Woodman editor apparently didn’t know was that Ewing’s tractor company was already in litigation.
According to an Aug. 2, 1917, article in the New York Times, Ford
Tractor Co. of South Dakota “ran along” for one year until about June 1915,
when Ewing apparently “got in a wrangle” with some of his partners. As a result
of the conflict, Ewing was nearly forced out
of the company.
article appearing in Tractor and Gas Engine Review late in 1917 reported
further problems with Ford Tractor Co. “Last summer Ford Tractor Co.
demonstrators … claimed they were making 20 tractors a day. But those who
furnished them with accessories credit them with only 300 for the year.”
article also noted that when Ewing first established the tractor company, he
required dealers to purchase a “block of stock — a practice that few new
concerns care to adopt, not that there is anything particularly wrong about it,
only it is apt to arouse suspicions — and it did in this case, especially among
those who had followed the career of Mr. W. Baer Ewing in his connection with
Federal Securities Co. and Power Distribution Co. of Minneapolis several years
ago.” The article concluded with a warning to investors of the possibility that
the company was probably not what it appeared to be.
dissolution of his initial Ford Tractor Co., Ewing reorganized his tractor
business in Delaware
under the name of Ford Tractor Co. Ltd. The Delaware concern began business on Nov. 8,
1916, with $1,000,000 authorized capital. W. Baer Ewing was president of the
board; C.B. Elliott, vice president; and M.R. Johnston, secretary/treasurer.
John H. Meier, Paul B. Ford, John L. Smith and R.A. Jacobson were directors. In
an initial stock offering, the company extracted $350,000 from approximately
3,000 people, selling about 80,000 shares at $4 to $5 per share.
quickly unraveled. An Aug. 2, 1917, New
York Times headline read, “Emerson Motors
Co. in New Indictment, Five Officers and ‘Ford Tractor’ Heads Accused of
Misusing the Mails, Frauds in Stocks Alleged, Brokers Who Handled Shares Also
Included – Some History of Tractor Concerns.”
Motors Co. was the enterprise devised by Nicholas Field Wilson, who, according
to a November 1918 article in The World’s Work, a monthly business
magazine, sought to get in on one of the nation’s “most lucrative fields for
the get-rich-quick promoter.” Wilson
had already been indicted and sentenced to prison by July 1917 for his
company’s fraudulent activities. He came under further scrutiny when he was
linked to Ford Tractor Co., which by then had its own legal issues. The link
between the two companies was Robert P. Matches & Co., a brokerage firm
that had worked with both Wilson and Ewing.
in 1918, remnants of Ford Tractor Co. were sold at auction. But by then, the
case had taken on a life of its own: Rumors persisted that Ewing had also
organized a tractor company in Canada.
Sorensen is a lifelong resident of southeast South Dakota. She and her husband farm with
Belgian draft horses and collect vintage farm equipment. Email her at email@example.com.
Read more about the Ford Model B in Unanswered Questions for Ford Model B and Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory Offered Early Consumer Protection.