The First Steam Tractor?

The true first steam tractor is probably lost to time, but there are multiple claimants. Here is one putting the vehicle's inaugural drive at 1860.

first steam tractor

By description the purported first steam tractor was a three-wheeled behemoth like this. No actual photo or other image of the vehicle survives.

Illustration: Farm Collector Magazine Staff

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David Otto of Middleville, Michigan sent us this tribute to Henry G. Stone clipped from the Grand Rapids Herald, Sunday edition, November 28, 1926. He says: "I am sending a copy of an article that was given to me by Mrs. Florence Manning from Owosso, Michigan, whose late husband was a grandson of Mr. Henry Stone.

"The Grand Rapids Herald newspaper stopped publication in the 1950s, so I don't think there should be any problem reprinting it.

"I enjoy Iron-Men Album very much and have some dated back to 1954."

Here is the article, which was titled 'First Steam Tractor.'"

First Steam Tractor

'To a Grand Rapids man, the late Henry G. Stone, belongs credit, it is believed, for the successful construction of the first steam tractor, or road engine, built in the United States. Mr. Stone's iron monster, built in 1860, proved impractical for several reasons, but it ran, as at least four present Grand Rapids residents can testify.

''In recognition of the various services to Grand Rapids by Mr. Stone, who was one of the city's earliest settlers, L. J. DeLamarter, vice president and manager of the Grand Rapids Railway Company, has announced that one of the new rail coaches will bear his name.

'Coming here in 1836 from his home in New York state, Mr. Stone, a foundry man by trade, established the Stone & Dean foundry and machine shop. The firm later undergoing changes of location and name to Cubb & Stone and later the Henry G. Stone Company.

'Although but a boy of eight years at the time, Mr. Stone's son, Frank A. Stone, Stone Hills, NW, remembers vividly the maiden trip of the steam tractor, it being attended by too many thrilling features to be lightly forgotten.

'Built in the Stone machine shop, the ponderous vehicle carried two 10 horsepower steam engines mounted on a three-wheeled chassis.

'The third wheel, much smaller, was placed at the rear. A steering wheel turned the small rear wheel. The boiler was heated amidships, and the rear was a platform serving for passengers, freight and fuel.

'From its place of construction at the Stone Foundry, located at Bridge St. and Scribner Ave., says Mr. Stone, his father piloted the steam wagon east on Bridge Street, and started across the covered bridge then spanning the Grand, before the first of the calamities attending the trip descended.

'Cobwebs hung thick about the top of the bridge roof, and sparks hurled upward by the lusty puffing of the engine found a ready fuel. The covering blazed up, and the 20 or more passengers carried on the trip were obliged to dismount and assist the numerous bystanders in extinguishing the flames.

'That accomplished, the trip was continued along Monroe Avenue, the ponderous vehicle, as it roared and clattered over the cobblestones, exciting pedestrians to amazement and horses to a frenzy, the latter breaking their tethers and bolting wherever possible. Mr. Stone's bill from that score alone was enormous, according to his son.

'When the attempt was made in return to the starting point by way of the wooden bridge then covering Pearl Street, the planking collapsed, entailing additional damage. As both the Pearl and Bridge Street bridges were privately owned at that time, Mr. Stone was forbidden to use them further.

'Although the tractor could be used as a power plant for sawmills or other machinery, it proved too expensive to be practical and was dismantled some months later, and its parts utilized in other ways.

'Mr. Stone, whose name is to survive by commemoration at the hands of the railway company, died in 1906, in his 89th year. Of those who witnessed the trial trip, according to F. A. Stone, only five survive today. FC