Deceptive Marketing for Tractor Schools
There was a legitimate need for tractor engineer training in the early 20th century, but deceptive advertising could hurt a school's cause.
Inflated claims made by the Common Sense Tractor & Auto School backfired when the company was chastised for exaggerated promotional materials. In response to this ad, other manufacturers complained that scarcely 25 men nationwide were making $15 a day repairing tractors.
In the early days of farm mechanization, farmers needed help learning how to run and fix tractors. So, in 1917, H.W. Adams started the Common Sense Tractor & Auto School to fill that need. The school suggested students could learn to operate and repair all kinds of tractors and automobiles … but the instruction focused on the Common Sense tractor. An article in the Dec. 31, 1917, issue of Farm Implements dryly noted that "a couple of weeks of indoctrination no doubt sold a lot of tractors."
The Vigilance Bureau of the Minneapolis Advertising Forum took exception to claims made by the Tractor & Auto School, most specifically that "$5 to 15 a day (is) waiting for you!" The Farmer magazine, where the ad had appeared, agreed. J.A. Davidson from The Farmer advertising department wrote, "… we are of the opinion that the advertisement of the Common Sense Tractor & Auto School … (with) the expression '$5 to $15 a day waiting for you,' is decidedly exaggerated. On the large bonanza farms, where big tractors are kept and thousands of acres are planted, there may be jobs paying $5 to $10 a day, but we doubt if there are 25 tractor engineers in the United States who are getting $15 a day."
The Farmer ended by saying, "We think, therefore, you can do a really worthwhile service to advertisers of this nature if you can show them how they are injuring their own cause by exaggeration."
On the other hand, The Farmer agreed the instruction was valuable, and students who applied themselves got their money's worth. The Stinson Tractor Co., Minneapolis, concurred, with W.B. Gleeson writing, "I know from my personal experience that the majority of farm tractor manufacturers agree that 80 percent of the efficiency of a farm tractor depends on the operator and only 20 percent on the machine." Gleeson said the need for trained tractor engineers far exceeded the supply, and the Common Sense six-week course would do the job. "I do not know of any gentleman who is more thoroughly conversant with traction engineering in a detail way than Mr. Adams." He added that if he had any doubts about the school, he would air them. - Bill Vossler