A Brief History of Silver King Tractors

Silver King tractors, manufactured in 1933 in Plymouth, Ohio., were initially called "Plymouths."

| January 2003

Henry Ford thought enough of the Silver King tractors to purchase two just to tear apart and study. Of the Silver King brand, Ford is reported to have said, 'They were the best on the market at the time but had the worst marketing program of any company.'

Silver Kings were manufactured by the Fate-Root-Heath Co. beginning in 1933 in Plymouth, Ohio. Initially they were called 'Plymouths.' According to historians of the brand, J.D. Fate arrived in Plymouth in the late 1880s to begin building clay-extruding equipment for the manufacture of bricks. In 1909, Fate organized the Plymouth Truck Co. for making Plymouth trucks and sightseeing buses, and in 1910,  a Plymouth car, but in 1915, the company closed.

In 1919, Fate joined with three Root brothers - John, Percy and Halse - and Charles Heath to build locomotives and reel-type grass mowers, also in the same city. Following the 1929 stock market crash, Heath urged his partners to begin building tractors, too. The company's first tractor was a three-wheeled Plymouth 10-20, powered by a 20-hp Hercules 1XA four-cylinder motor with a 3-inch bore and a 4-inch stroke. The four-speed transmission included a speed gear that topped out at 25 mph.

Silver Kings were reportedly designed for use with rubber tires, although they came with steel wheels as standard equipment; the buyer had to pay extra for the rubber tires. The tractor also was among the first to have an electrical system, including starter and lights, and it quickly gained a reputation for being easy to repair. By the mid-1930s, company engineers were working on a three-point hitch, live hydraulics and a complete hydraulic transmission.

In 1934, when the low, stable design of the four-wheeled Silver King R38 was introduced, the tractor began to attract more attention. It sported lights, a horn and a top road speed of 45 mph with its governor removed. From 1934 to 1937, the tractors were built and marketed mostly for highway mowing; each tractor came with its own 5-foot Oliver sickle-bar mower.

In 1936, the company was able to build four to five tractors a day, and in 1937, records show, 1,000 tractors were actually sold.