Samson Tractor Was GM's Response to Fordson

General Motors Corp introduced Samson tractors to compete with Ford's Fordson

| May 1999

William C. Durant is generally given credit for creating, in September 1908, the car and truck building giant we know as General Motors Corp. Not everyone knows that Mr. Durant, and General Motors, took a brief and disastrous fling at building farm tractors during the late teens and early ’20s. 

During 1915, rumors flew in agricultural circles that Henry Ford would soon introduce a small farm tractor for $250 or less. The Ford Motor Co. hotly denied those rumors, but in 1917 the mass-produced Fordson was introduced. The first 7,000 machines were sold to Great Britain to aid in the war effort, but the Fordson became available to American farmers in 1918 and was an immediate success. The little Fordson soon outsold the previous leader, the International Harvester Co.’s Titan 10-20, because the Titan cost about $1,000, while the Fordson came in at $885, fully equipped. Henry had widely missed his target price of $250, but the Fordson was still about the cheapest tractor on the market.

Billy Durant, at that time chairman and chief stockholder of GM, saw the popular Fordson tractor as a challenge. Ford had already grabbed a major share of the car market, and the same thing seemed about to happen to farm tractors. Durant determined to go head-to-head with Ford, and bought out the Samson Tractor Works, Stockton, Calif.

Samson began building tractors about 1913, and its Samson Sieve-Grip tractor, introduced in 1914, was the most successful model. Offered in 6-12 and 10-25 versions, the machine was named for its open-faced wheels, which worked fine in the soft peat land around Stockton, and in light soils, but were less than satisfactory in sticky clay. The clay collected inside the wheel and accumulated until each wheel became a solid ball of mud and would hardly turn. In spite of that, the one-cylinder 6-12 became very popular because of its light weight and low center of gravity.

In 1918, GM bought a factory in Janesville, Wis., and incorporated the Janesville Machine Co. to build the GMC Samson tractor. GMC put a four-cylinder 4-3/4-by-6-inch engine in the Sieve-Grip, rated it a 12-25 horsepower, and put it on the market at $1,750.

Obviously, the $1,750 Sieve-Grip was no competition to the $885 Fordson, so GM announced, in late 1918, that a new Samson Model M, with a price tag of $650, would be its answer to Ford. The Model M boasted a GMC four-cylinder engine of 4-1/2-inch bore and 5-inch stroke that turned out 9.32 drawbar horsepower when tested at Nebraska.


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