Birth of the Fordson Tractor

Odd-named Fordson tractor ushered Ford onto the farm.


| March 2004



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The first of 6,000 tractors built for the British Ministry

Fordson is certainly a curious name for a tractor, but what a tractor it was. Its introduction in 1917 helped change the American farm tractor from the hulking, steam engine-like prairie breakers to what we think of as 'normal' farm machines today. In fact, the tractors were so popular that almost a million Fordsons were built by Ford Motor Co. before the name was finally dropped in 1964.

Why the name Fordson? The answer is found in the tractor's fascinating history. The Ford Motor Co., founded in 1903, was originally a stock-based company with several hundred stockholders. It was actually the third company founded on Henry Ford's automotive genius, and the same firm still exists.

The other two companies were also stock-based businesses, but Henry always chaffed under the control and limitations imposed by stockholders. In fact, stockholders suspected Henry withheld his best efforts in order to extort a bigger share of the profits.

Ford was actually fired from the second Ford firm, which then changed its name to Cadillac Motor Co. Meanwhile, the third Ford incarnation - called Ford Motor Co. and its stockholders did quite well making the famous Model T automobile.

In July 1917, Henry Ford organized another corporation under the name Henry Ford & Son Inc. The company's mission was to manufacture tractors, equipment and 'self-propelling vehicles of every description.' Stockholders of this corporation were limited to Henry, his wife, Clara, and their son, Edsel, then only 24 years old.

While Henry intended to manufacture tractors under the new firm and had worked on developing a farm machine for some time, the new company was part of his gambit to encourage Ford Motor Co. stockholders to sell out to him at reasonable prices. The trump card that Henry held was the fact that stockholders feared Henry Ford & Son would begin building cars and directly compete with Ford Motor Co.