The Great LIBERATOR


| August 2003



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The logo for the Liberty tractor

Before a single Liberty tractor was sold in 1918, the four-wheeled, kerosene-powered vehicle was in trouble. Not because of the tractor's worthiness, because it took several top honors at various tractor demonstrations, and certainly not in the eyes of its manufacturer - obvious from ads that screamed Sensation! Durable! A Seller! The tractor's trouble came because of its name.

World War I still raged across Europe when the government's National Vigilance Committee asked the Elmer Pitcher Co., a Minneapolis tractor firm, whether it was taking advantage of a name used and made famous by Uncle Sam. The NVC's Guss Husser wrote that '... the concern here was advertising a tractor called the Liberty tractor, and ... the name 'Liberty' is applied to the new government motor as well as trucks, which are being used by the government in the war. We are wondering on what basis this apparently privately-owned concern is making use of the phrase 'Liberty tractor.''

By all accounts, Elmer Pitcher, manager of the Elmer Pitcher Co., and founder of the Liberty Tractor Co., would've made a great politician. Two weeks after the Vigilance Committee's letter of May 2, 1918, he answered, '... we have not as yet put any tractors on the market, we are only getting some out for tests. We adopted the name LIBERTY Oct. 21, 1917.'

That's all Elmer wrote. He gave no justification for taking the well-known name of a government-made product, although there was the troublesome, little fact that the company didn't organize until Jan. 23, 1918.

Yet, perhaps Pitcher was justified in his denial. An unsigned letter dated May 31, 1918, said the Vigilance Bureau (a branch of the NVC) discovered that the tractor was designed by 'a man named McVicar (of the McVicar Engineering Co.), who is said to be one of the recognized tractor experts of this section and a man who seems to be held in the highest esteem in the tractor industry.'

Apparently, McVicar's reputation carried enough weight that the committee members felt he wasn't merely a fly-by-night engineer trying to take advantage of war-spawned patriotism to sell tractors.