One hundred and one years ago, on Oct. 8, 1917, the first of 739,977 Fordson tractors that were to be built there over the next 10 years rolled off the assembly line at the Henry Ford and Son company plant on Brady Street in Dearborn, Michigan. Due to Great Britain’s critical need for tractors to increase food production to ease the threat of starvation caused by the German U-boat blockade during the First World War, the first several thousand of these were sent to the British Ministry of Munitions (MOM) for distribution to farmers. Most of these were without the cast-in Fordson logo on the radiator top tank and were known in England as “MOM” tractors.
After domestic sales began in June of 1918, American farmers, hungry for a lightweight, inexpensive tractor, flocked to Ford dealers to buy Fordsons, with 34,167 being made during the rest of 1918.
Some Fordson owners cursed their new purchases, but many others were quite satisfied with their tractors – one wag said the machines “could do everything except milk a cow, climb a tree, or make love to the hired girl.” A Mississippi farmer wrote to Henry Ford in 1927 and said the Fordson “defeated all competition in that region and would do anything any sensible man or fool wanted done.”
A few Fordson owners even took pen in hand to write a few lines of poetry praising the little Fordson. One of these gems was:
The Fordson on the farm arose before the dawn at four.
It drove the cows and washed the clothes and finished every chore.
Then forth it went into the fields just at the break of day
It reaped and threshed the golden yield and hauled it all away.
I’ve worked mules and horses on the farm, and yoke of oxen too;
But a Fordson tractor beats them all by forcing farm work through.
It seldom balks, or kicks or squeals and never succumbs to heat.
I tell you now my farmer friend the Fordson’s hard to beat.
And one more:
Come here old mule, I’ve news for you! Here’s a Fordson
It’s come to make our lives anew. Here’s a Fordson
It’s come to change our work to play; it’s come to turn our night to day,
Oh yes old mule it’s come to stay for it’s a Fordson.
Bad poetry, no doubt, but it seems to have illustrated the genuine affection many farmers felt toward their Fordson tractors.
The cover of a 1921 Fordson booklet in the author’s collection.
Reynold M. Wik tells us in his 1972 book, Henry Ford and Grass Roots America, that “in 1910 there were only 1,000 tractors, 50,000 autos, and no trucks among the farm families in the United States; in 1920 there were 246,000 tractors, 2,146,000 automobiles, and 139,000 trucks.” Henry Ford had a big hand in this increase, with his mass-produced, and as a result, cheaper to make and sell cars, trucks and tractors.
By 1928 however, increased competition, especially from IH with their versatile Farmall line, plus the demands of designing and manufacturing an entirely new car, the famous Model A Ford, had caused Ford to withdraw from the U.S. tractor scene. The basic Fordson design that was introduced in 1917, although with some improvements, continued to be cranked out in quantity at British Ford Motor Company plants in Cork, Ireland, and Dagenham, England, until after World War II when the much more modern Fordson Model E27 was introduced, and even it featured the same engine and transmission as the old models.
In spite of its early success, Fordson tractors get little respect from today’s antique tractor collectors.
– Sam Moore