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A History of New Holland Equipment

Author Photo
By Norm Swinford

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“A Century of Ford and New Holland Farm Equipment” by Norm Swinford goes model by model through the tractor line of the world leading agricultural equipment brand, New Holland North America, Inc. 
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Abram Zimmerman's first shop was a compact 40-x-40-foot building. It stands on Railroad Avenue in the borough of New Holland, Pennsylvania.
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Identification of New Holland progressed right along with the company's business. The various logos always had a contemporary look. The logo adopted in 1970 continued until the formation of Ford New Holland in 1985.
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The New Holland freeze-proof 1.5-horsepower engine appeared in the early 1900s. Its unique tapered water jacket allowed the ice to rise up the walls instead of expanding to burst it.
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With 5 to 10 horsepower, the No. 10 could grind 15 to 50 bushels per hour while the No. 12 used 8 to 14 horsepower to grind 25 to 75 bushels per hour. With more power available, attachments such as a sacker could be driven.
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The No. 6 was a burr mill that could grind grain much finer than the earlier No. 1. Zimmerman developed a windmill for power but it got lost in the rush to build small gasoline engines.
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The No. 1 feed and cob mill was Abram Zimmerman's first commercial product in 1889. It had a capacity of 10 to 30 bushels per hour and required 1 to 6 horsepower. It was a bargain at $18.
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Shortly after the firm was incorporated as the New Holland Machine Company in 1903, a new 40-x-210-foot factory and foundry was built in New Holland.
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Ground whole ear corn was all right for the cattle, but the pigs and chickens couldn't handle the cobs. A New Holland hand-cranked sheller took care of that.
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P.E. Shirk of Blue Ball, Pennsylvania, used a 3-horsepower New Holland engine to power his 1910 "Traction Gear" tractor. The live PTO drive was patented by Shirk. The rig cut 5 acres of grass on 27 cents worth of gasoline.
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New Holland offered five sizes of feed mills — 6-inch burr, 6.5-, 8-, 10- and 12-inch tractor powered mills. This combination of a Fordson tractor and New Holland mill may have been a harbinger of the distant future.
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On a four-wheel hand truck the engine could be moved around to shell corn, grind feed, or pump water. Except on Mondays when the lady of the house used it to run her washing machine.
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After several years of failure and false starts, Edwin Nolt's self-tie pickup baler was a proven machine. It was the basis of New Holland's resurrection.
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Production of the New Holland automatic baler started in 1940 and the factory was expanded to provide the needed space.
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The early Automaton baler was driven by a Hercules four-cylinder 65-cubic-inch gasoline engine. A 5-foot pickup fed the 16-x-18-inch machine.
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In late 1940 New Holland began producing the Model 73, the first of more than 20,000 in the next seven years. From a relatively obscure shortliner, New Holland joined the ranks of the top companies.
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An experimental small one-string baler was proposed for a low-cost family farm machine but was never produced.
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Due to the reduced need for manpower, the New Holland baler quickly became a favorite of the custom baling operatiors. A farmer and his growing son could make good summer wages.
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Even the best automatic equipment may need a little help now and then. So it was with the Automaton — when the knotter missed, the baler man quickly tied the bale. 
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In 1941 the No. 75 Automaton baler sold for $1,775. A blower for the knotters added $27.50 and a screw-type jack came for $21.50. Priced separately, the Wisconsin 20-horsepower engine was $275 and an electric starter was available for $65.

Ride through a century with Ford and New Holland and follow an unforgettable trail of products and politics in Norm Swinford’s A Century of Ford and New Holland Farm Equipment (American Society of Agricultural Engineers, 2000). From feed mills to forage harvesters, corn shellers to giant combines, uncover the inspiring history of two innovative and independent companies, New Holland and Ford, before their merge into the world leading agricultural equipment brand, New Holland North America, Inc. The following excerpt is an overview of the New Holland Machine Company’s history

You can purchase this book from the Farm Collector store: A Century of Ford and New Holland Farm Equipment.  

New Holland was an outstanding example of a successful shortline (no tractor) company. By concentrating their expertise and efforts on a few major harvesting machines they had become an industry leader. Although Ford had a full line of farm equipment, most, except tractors, were purchased from outside suppliers and thus Ford did not have complete control of design or cost. Ownership of a company that produced the needed equipment would be extremely desirable. New Holland was such a company. The Ford and New Holland lines complemented each other in an unusual way — they were a “natural fit.”

Ford Motor Company acquired New Holland in 1985 and combined it with Ford Tractor Operations to form Ford New Holland. Ford had approximately 1,400 dealers in North America and New Holland equipment was sold in about 1,700 dealerships, of which about 400 were Ford dealers. In 1984 Ford Tractor Operations had worldwide sales of $1.25 billion while New Holland reported sales of $715 million for the most recent fiscal year. But that is starting in the middle of the story. It is necessary to rewind back to 1895.

New Holland Machine Works 

The following New Holland history is condensed from The Sperry New Holland Line, April 1970, (75th anniversary) and New Holland, Our First 100 Years,

1895-1995: Abram Zimmerman, a master machinist, opened his New Holland Machine Works in New Holland, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1895. With a variety of used machines and homemade tools he attempted to repair anything the local folks brought. He seemed to have a knack for things mechanical and soon was working on his ideas for a feed mill. Other mills could grind shelled corn and small grain, but Zimmerman’s mill could also crush and grind ear corn — something the local livestock farmers needed for cattle feed. His No. 1 mill of 1899 became the basis for a line of feed mills that has continued to the present. For a time the mill was sold to Fairbanks Morse for resale under their name.  Among his earliest products were portable gas engines. He sold and serviced the big Columbus gas engines. Perceiving a need for a smaller, more portable engine, Zimmerman developed his freeze-proof 1.5-horsepower engine.  The unique tapered design of the water jacket allowed the freezing water to expand upward without damaging it.

Both the feed mills and engines sold well and the company was growing. In 1903 the New Holland Machine Works was incorporated as the New Holland Machine Company and stock was sold to the local folks who knew a good investment when they saw it. With the infusion of capital the company built a 40-x-210-foot building and a foundry.

In response to the need for improved roads in the area, Zimmerman designed and built a rugged jaw-type rock crusher and sold 27 units in 1910. The same year the company sold 2,243 mills, 475 saws, and 360 engines, all produced by a work force of 135 persons.

In 1914 Abram Zimmerman sold his share of the firm and resigned to join the Russellite religious movement that predicted the end of the world that year. When the cataclysm failed to happen he returned, but resigned again a short time later.

The New Holland Machine Company prospered throughout the 1920s as it produced feed mills, crushers, and other quarrying machines. The gas engine business slowly disappeared as electric power lines spread through the rural areas and by 1930 only a few engines were manufactured. The great Depression of the early 1930s nearly devastated the company as farmers faced financial ruin. Somehow  the  company  hung  on  during  the Depression with  minimum sales ofmills, rock crushers, and coal furnaces, as well as unrelated products such as, of all things, bulldog door stops, nutcrackers, and stove-top waffle irons.

Edwin B. Nolt (1910-1992)

Edwin B. Nolt was born in Vogansville, Pennsylvania, not far from New Holland, in 1910. His father ran a custom threshing and baling business and a rock-crushing service, as well as a small farm. Even as a lad of 10, Edwin knew well the hot, dusty job of poking and twisting the wires on the stationary hay press. At the age of 14 he completed the eighth grade and went to work with his father. By age 20 he had purchased one of the rigs from his father and threshed grain for Lancaster County farmers for the next several years.

By the mid-1930s Allis-Chalmers and other companies had launched their small 5- and 6-foot combines. They enabled a farmer to harvest his crop with no dependence of the threshing ring and its high demand for manpower. These midget machines rang the death knell for the thresher.  Nolt could see the end of his threshing business. He could also see that the small combine had a serious shortcoming — it left the straw in the field, and livestock farmers needed the straw forbedding. There were a few pickup balers on the market. Nolt bought an Innes pickup baler that used binder twine for tying the bales. It did not work. He bought a Case manual-tie pickup baler, so heavy he had to borrow a larger tractor to pull it.

During the winter of 1936-1937 Nolt began to build his own baler, using parts from the Innes, knotters from a grain binder, and gears from a Fordson tractor. Thus began two seasons of cut-and-try experiments that eventually led to a salable self-tying pickup baler. One of his most significant developments was the telescoping connecting rod that  kept the plunger in contact with  the bale while it was being tied, maintaining compression and  producing  a  tight  bale. Although the baler as a whole was innovative, the connecting rod proved to be the only patentable feature.  Five balers were built in 1938, followed by 30 in 1939. Nolt had outgrown Arthur Young’s small shop in Kinzers, Pennsylvania,   and moved  his  baler  production  into  the  New  Holland factory in 1940… Earlier pick-up balers required three men — a tractor operator and two others on the baler to poke and twist the wires. With the New Holland baler one man on the tractor and a boy on the baler to tie the miss-ties did the entire job, leaving the others to retrieve and store the bales — not exactly a job promotion.

Wolf At The Door 

By 1940 the New Holland Machine Company was faced with heavy debt. Only about 40 employees were needed to handle the nearly non-existent business. New Holland needed a minor miracle. It arrived, led by J. Henry Fisher. He selected three young men in whom he had much confidence. Fisher, George Delp, Irl Daffin, and Raymond Buckwalter acquired a majority interest in New Holland and the four set about putting the company back on its feet.

Nolt Baler Saves New Holland 

New Holland needed a product that could increase sales. It was already in the shop in the form of the Nolt baler. New Holland acquired the rights to build the baler in 1940 and production started later that year. The self­ tie baler was no doubt the turning point in New Holland’s history. In 1941 New Holland built 351 balers.

Even as early as 1940, United States defense industries were beginning to require enormous quantities of materials that were becoming increasingly scarce. Because the 73 baler required so little manpower, New Holland was able to get a special allocation of steel to build balers during World War II. In 1943 New Holland built 632 Model 75 balers, followed by over 2,000 balers in 1944. Baler production soared to 4,700 Model 76 balers in 1946 and the plant was tooling up to build nearly three times that many in 1948.

Diversified Product Line 

By 1946 New Holland products included tractor saws, saw frames, husker-shellers, limestone pulverizers, roll crushers, jaw crushers, hammer crushers, belting, general purpose and cement mixers, and power units, as well as shellers and hammermills. Eventually the company also offered rotary tillers and potato harvesters. With the company’s near-term future assured by the outstanding success of the baler, New Holland engineers could spread their wings with some new concepts. One was the Sizz-Weeder, a flame cultivator that not only cooked weeds in cotton fields but also broiled the cotton boll-weevil. The concept worked all right in the hands of a careful operator, but inexperienced operators soon began torching entire cotton fields — so much for flame cultivation.

Sperry Corporation Brings Growth and Expansion 

New Holland’s success attracted the attention of the Sperry Corporation which acquired New Holland in 1947. Everybody won — New Holland obtained a new source of capital and Sperry diversified its high-tech holdings.   In 1973 the   company   became   known   as Sperr New Holland.

The Dellinger Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, made a successful ensilage cutter. New Holland acquired Dellinger in 1948 and used the ensilage cutter as the basis for the Model 600 field forage harvester.  Factories in Mountville, Belleville, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, were opened. The Belleville plant began producing side-delivery rakes in 1948. The Model 700 manure spreader appeared in late 1949. New Holland manufactured over 42,000 balers in ten short years.  In just over a quarter­ century President Delp and his co-workers nurtured New Holland from a nearly unknown company to a spot in the top ten farm equipment manufacturers.

The Self-Tie Baler (1940) 

A new labor-saving machine was introduced in 1940 as the self-tie baler, but it was quickly renamed the Automaton.  A stationary self-tie baler was also offered but the pick-up version soon displaced it. Timing could not have been better — World War II had already begun to siphon manpower from the farms to the armed services. Farmers saw in the Automaton a way to save their hay crops with a rapidly shrinking farm labor force.

The Automaton Model 73 used twine to automatically tie the 16-x-18-inch bales that weighed 40 to 80 pounds, much less than the then­ common heavy wire-tied bales. Now the boys and women of the farm family could effectively join the harvest crew while their sons and brothers tackled the fight for freedom.

The Automaton baler was powered by a 20-horsepower Wisconsin air-cooled four-cylinder 92-cubic-inch engine and had a capacity of 3 to 6 tons per hour. The unit weighed 5,000 pounds and could be handled by a two-plow tractor.

Even the new lighter bales required considerable labor to load them on a truck or wagon. In 1947 New Holland announced their bale loader. This unit was a ground-driven elevator that was pulled beside a truck or wagon. It could load up to 7 bales per minute — plenty fast for the man who had to stack them.

From then until the present, New Holland balers have set the pace for the industry. Square balers from the small family-farm models to the monsters that made bales that weighed nearly a ton have matched the needs of hay producers in every market. Bale throwers and automatic bale wagons have taken the aching backs out of haymaking. The huge cylindrical bales made by New Holland’s round balers dot the landscape wherever hay or straw must be packaged. Abram Zimmerman would be astonished.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from the American Society of Agricultural Engineers, 2000. Buy this book from our store: A Century of Ford and New Holland Farm Equipment

Published on Jan 9, 2013

Farm Collector Magazine

Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment