Harry Ferguson: Mechanical Genius Part II
(Page 4 of 6)
Issuing a challenge
According to press accounts, Harry Ferguson Inc. turned over about $10 million a month, half of which was generated by sales of Ford-Ferguson tractors. When asked if he was worried about competition from the new Ford tractor, Ferguson Inc. President Roger Kyes laid down the gauntlet. “I recall that we have a number of patents,” he said.
The Ford-Ferguson agreement ended on June 30, 1947, three weeks before Ford’s new 8N was demonstrated to 300 guests at Deer Lake Farms near Detroit. News reports predicted stormy weather, noting that, “those who saw the new tractor thought it looked so much like the Ford-Ferguson machine that many predicted a patent squabble.” But the tractor sold well, and many Ferguson Inc. dealers switched to Dearborn Motors. In 1947, to keep his American company going, Ferguson shipped 25,000 British TE-20s to the U.S., solving the problem caused by the collapse of the Ford agreement, and justifying Sir Stafford Cripps’ efforts to supply steel to the Banner Lane factory.
In January 1948, in New York’s federal court, Harry Ferguson sued Henry Ford II, Dearborn Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and others for $251 million in damages, claiming patent infringements and conspiracy to monopolize the farm tractor and implement business. Ferguson claimed Ford Motor Co. had “recognized the validity (of his patents) and placed the statutory patent notice on all tractors manufactured down to June 1947.” He claimed triple damages on the 37,000 tractors Ford manufactured since the split and other damages for having rendered the business of the Ferguson Co. virtually unprofitable.
Ferguson purchased a 72-acre factory site in Detroit and built his own tractor plant, which he named Ferguson Park. American component suppliers were found and on Oct. 11, 1948, Harry Ferguson returned to America to drive the first tractor off the production line. Based on the TE-20, it was named TO (Tractor Overseas). By late 1948, production was up to about 100 tractors a day. Between 1948 and 1954, 140,000 TO-20 tractors were built in Detroit.
TE-20 a hit in the U.K.
Ferguson settled in the Cotswolds in west central England, buying Abbotswood, a beautiful home set on 600 acres. The rural setting allowed the opportunity to conduct actual field research. Spotting a TE-20 at work in a field, he’d go speak to the farmer, occasionally helping with mechanical repairs, all the while remaining anonymous.
Sales of the TE-20 flourished, partly due to an excellent U.K. dealer network. Ferguson visited dealerships but was not an easy man to please. He had a reputation for being a perfectionist obsessed with punctuality and cleanliness. Staffers were expected to be well presented and completely knowledgeable about both tractors and implements. He always carried a notebook and pencil and expected his staff to do the same. By 1949, more than 100,000 TE-20 tractors had been manufactured. At one point that year, Ferguson tractors held 78.4 percent of the wheeled tractor market in the U.K.
Ferguson also had a genius for publicity. Some of his exploits are legendary, including a 1948 cocktail party he hosted for overseas buyers. At that event, a tractor and trailer were displayed in a ballroom at Claridge’s Hotel in London. As Ferguson praised the tractor’s maneuverability, a Russian guest was overheard questioning its performance on a small plot of land. Ferguson jumped onto the tractor, demonstrating how well it operated in a small space before driving through the hotel lobby, down the entrance steps and onto the street.
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