Heinrich Lanz was born in Friedricshafen, Germany, in 1838, the fourth of six sons and a daughter. He went to school until the late 1850s, when he travelled around the world to prepare himself for work in his father’s business. There, he seems to have arranged for the import of agricultural machines, such as threshers from England, and started a repair shop for them.
Lanz soon recognized the untapped market in Germany for farm machinery. In 1867, he and one of his brothers began to make a fodder-cutting machine. Other implements followed. In about 1870, Heinrich took over sole management of the factory.
In 1878, the company produced its first steam engine, the Lokomobile. Soon the Lanz firm was making straw presses and threshers, virtually eliminating the imports from Britain. Lanz machines won many awards and honors at exhibitions all over Europe. By 1885, when Lanz sold their 1,000th steam threshing set, the company had become the largest agricultural machinery factory in Europe, employing more than 1,000 workers.
Heinrich Lanz died Feb. 1, 1905, leaving an enterprise with nearly 3,000 workers who annually produced 900 steam threshing sets and 1,400 Lokomobiles. He was succeeded by his son, Dr. Karl Lanz, who continued to expand the product line, introducing steam road engines and other machines.
More than 4,000 people were employed by Lanz on its 50th anniversary in 1909. One year later, at the world exhibition in Brussels, Lanz showed the largest Lokomobile in the world. It won three gold medals at the exhibition. In 1911, Lanz built 22 airships (zeppelins), and began to experiment with a 70-80 hp tractor with a 4-cylinder petrol engine. During the Great War, from 1914 to 1918, the company lost many employees; at the Armistice only 3,800 of the original 5,000 remained.
The company struggled after the war and Dr. Karl Lanz died in 1921, at age 48. A then-unknown engineer named Fritz Huber developed a crude oil engine with 12 hp and glow-head ignition. This glow-head engine was put into a wheeled tractor that became the first Lanz Bulldog. In 1923 came the type HP, a Bulldog with all-wheel drive and center pivot steering, a machine that technically was decades ahead of its time.
The rather expensive 38 hp Lanz Bulldog types HL and HP were built between 1924 and 1939. However, during the world financial crisis of the 1930s, the economical Bulldog type HR2 – the first with evaporative cooling – became popular. This 1-cylinder, rear-wheel drive tractor became the standard product of Lanz and many are still in use or in the hands of collectors today.
During this time, Lanz continued to improve its other machines as well. An all-steel thresher was introduced in 1929 and a swinging plunger straw press in 1931. The Eilbulldog (a fast road tractor) was introduced, and air tires came into wider use, both on the road and in the field. 1933 brought a wheeled potato digger, and in 1934 a Bulldog crawler tractor was added to the line.
World War II hit Lanz hard, with nearly 90 percent of the company’s Mannheim works destroyed by Allied bombers. Toiling in the rubble, workers continued to assemble Bulldog tractors from spare parts, and made repairs to damaged agricultural machinery.
Between 1946 and ’51, more Lanz Bulldogs were built, but the end was in sight. The glow-head engine had become outdated and used too much fuel. A tool carrier tractor, the Alldog, was offered. Although the concept was revolutionary, its unsatisfactory engine caused the machine to “floppte,” as noted in the German text. In addition, much of Lanz’s pre-war market had been in what was then East Germany. After the war, it was off-limits to West German manufacturers.
Half-diesel Bulldogs were offered in 1952. This medium-pressure engine, an intermediate-type between glow-head and diesel, got decent fuel economy, but the problem of the shaking 1-cylinder engines remained. Acceptance among farmers sank due to the multi-cylinder, smooth-running diesel tractors of the competition.
The 150,000th Bulldog tractor was delivered in 1953; one year later, the first self-propelled combine was introduced. In 1955, Lanz equipped the Bulldog with a full-diesel (or high-pressure engine), although it was still a 1-cylinder, installed horizontally, and Lanz needed help.
Although Deere & Co. had exported machinery abroad for decades, the export business was always considered a sideline. A 1950 study revealed that Deere, although holding nearly 20 percent of U.S machinery sales in South America, Mexico, Africa and Asia, had less than 10 percent in Europe. An official from the export department was sent to find out why. It turned out that European buyers of farm machinery couldn’t find dollars to pay for machinery imported from the U.S., and were buying from local manufacturers where they could pay in marks, francs and lira.
Deere’s ultra-conservative management had always been leery of foreign ventures, but after World War II, President Charles Wiman proposed a manufacturing facility in Scotland. It was reluctantly approved, but support was half-hearted, and only junior level managers were assigned to the project. When, in 1952, Britain’s government changed from Labor to Conservative and delayed British government financing for the Scotland factory, the project died.
Also in 1953, a West German bank that owned a large block of Lanz stock approached Deere & Co. about buying controlling interest in the Heinrich Lanz Co. The bankers proposed to deliver 51 percent of the Lanz stock to Deere at a reasonable price. The Deere board, under Wiman’s leadership, debated the proposal at length, but in the end turned it down.
Two years later, Wiman died in May 1955. When his barely 40-year-old son-in-law, William Hewitt, was appointed in his place, a new generation took over Deere & Co.
In July 1956, Hewitt and other Deere executives flew to Mannheim to again talk to the bankers. Hewitt made a formal proposal to buy 51 percent of the Lanz stock for $5.3 million, subject to an audit of the Lanz books and an equipment inventory. Back in the States, the Deere board again debated long and hard, but this time gave their approval.
By November 1956, 200,000 Bulldogs had been built. In 1958, the paint scheme was changed from blue lacquer with red wheels to Deere green and yellow, but the model was still badly outmoded. In 1959, the first modern multi-cylinder diesel tractors were developed, and in 1960, Heinrich Lanz AG Mannheim was renamed John Deere Lanz AG, and Bulldog production ended. The name Lanz appeared for a short time on the products as “John Deere-Lanz,” but soon the long and proud history of Heinrich Lanz, A.G., ended after more than 100 years. FC
Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by email at email@example.com.