By the time Great Britain entered World War I, the country’s agricultural capacity had been in a long decline. During the past 50 years acreage under cultivation had dropped from 17.7 to 14.4 million acres, due mostly to the higher wages offered by industry. With the German U-boat blockade, imported food couldn’t get through and the people of the British Isles were in danger of starvation.
The tiny British tractor industry couldn’t help much, so the importation of tractors from the U.S. was stepped up. But the John Deere Waterloo Boys (renamed as Overtime tractors for the English market) and the Titans and Moguls from International Harvester weren’t enough. To solve the problem, the Ministry of Munitions (MOM) established an agricultural machinery section. Percival Perry, head of British Ford, was made deputy to the new department’s leader.
Perry knew about Ford’s new tractor. Although it hadn’t yet gone into production in the States, he brought a prototype to England for evaluation. Ministry officials were impressed by the machine and an agreement was made with Ford to ship 5,000 tractors to England at actual cost plus $50 per machine. The order, later increased by 1,000 units, was completed in April 1918.
The tractors featured an engine made by the Hercules Motor Corp., Canton, Ohio, six-spoke rear wheels and ladder radiator sides. The new tractors bore no identification (Henry hadn’t yet chosen Fordson for the name), so the machines became known in Britain as MOM tractors.
Few British farmers knew anything about driving tractors. A number of Women’s Land Army girls and demobilized soldiers were trained by the Ministry of Munitions and could be hired by the farmers to whom the machines were allotted. Eventually, the Ministry sold most of the MOM tractors to the users.
As a result of the extensive plowing campaign, cultivated land in England increased by nearly 2 million acres by the November 1918 Armistice. Not only that, but Henry Ford had been permitted to begin production of the Fordson in Cork, Ireland. That operation was later moved to Dagenham in Essex, where the Fordson became the most popular tractor in Great Britain. It is estimated that by the end of the Second World War, 85 percent of all tractors in the country were Fordsons. FC
For more about the Fordson, read Henry Ford’s Revolutionary Farm Tractor from the August 2011 issue.