Hough Loader Legacy

Frank G. Hough's front-end loader innovations are still on the job today.

| October 2006

Front-end loaders are so commonplace that they blend into the mechanical landscape at construction sites. Most farms, many estates and even some suburban homes are equipped with at least one. This ever-practical tool is designed principally for loading bulk materials and excavation, but it gets used for everything from hoisting engines out of pickup trucks to scraping away sod for a new flowerbed.

Who built the first tractor loader is anybody's guess, but it was likely the result of an enterprising farmer's desire to find an easier way to load manure. Some primitive tractor-mounted loaders used winches to raise and lower the bucket, while others employed more tenuous gear-driven mechanical linkages. Frank G. Hough (pronounced Huff), a young engineer in Chicago, believed in the potential of hydraulics and pioneered a much better way in the early 1920s. With his initial invention, Hough excavated the footings for a material-moving legacy whose contributions included the first production wheel-tractor-mounted front-end loader, first integrated wheel loader, first four-wheel drive loader and the largest mechanically driven loader, among many others.

In the beginning

At age 20, Frank G. Hough (1890-1965) was superintendent for the Field Mining and Milling Co., in Lafayette County, Wis., when he first became interested in applying hydraulics and wheels to movement of bulk materials. This eventually led the young engineer to a position as vice president and general manager of the Blair Mfg. Co. in Chicago, where, in 1922, he sold his first tractor-mounted shovel attachment. This original shovel, mounted on a Fordson farm tractor, was based on an invention whose patent he shared with Russell B. North and Royal R. Miller. The device was called the North hydraulic digger.

At Blair, Hough rapidly developed loaders for McCormick-Deering, Allis-Chalmers, and Case farm and industrial tractors. By the late 1920s the company offered the Blair hydraulic digger alongside bulldozers and backfilling blades that could be fitted to wheeled tractors and track machines.

The Blair hydraulic digger consisted of a vertical mast frame mounted to the front of the tractor, a pair of loader arms that pivoted at the rear of the tractor connected to a bucket up front, and a hydraulic lift mechanism. Essentially, a hydraulic cylinder located between the mast-frame's side rails raised a pair of cable-threaded sheaves that in turn raised the bucket-end of the loader arms, which were attached to the cables' ends. The vertical mast's side rails guided the loader arms, and the cable-sheave arrangement allowed the cylinder's relatively short stroke to be translated into higher lift. It looks like a little rattletrap in comparison with modern loader designs, but it was innovative and quite useful at the time.

Hough purchased Blair Mfg. Co. in 1931, and in 1933 incorporated as the Frank G. Hough Co. Like its predecessor, the newly named company concerned itself with engineering and sales, but not fabrication. Meili-Blumberg of New Holstein, Wis., and others were contracted to manufacture Hough's designs and drop-ship them directly to customers or dealers. In the early 1930s the company's products included tractor-mounted loaders, bulldozers and sweepers.