Tractor Industry Fraud

Fraud in the tractor industry was rampant in the competitive pre-1920s era

| January 2000

  • One of the business cards Paul B. Ford used while he was with the Ford Tractor Co. of Minneapolis
    One of the business cards Paul B. Ford used while he was with the Ford Tractor Co. of Minneapolis. On another card, he holds a different position with the company.
  • This Ford tractor – which was NOT made by Henry Ford – was a spiffy looking tractor, dark green with red fenders. The Ford Tractor Company of Minneapolis tried to trade on the name of Ford Motor Co. of Detroit, but went bankrupt in 1918.
    This Ford tractor – which was NOT made by Henry Ford – was a spiffy looking tractor, dark green with red fenders. The Ford Tractor Company of Minneapolis tried to trade on the name of Ford Motor Co. of Detroit, but went bankrupt in 1918.
  • The Happy Farmer Tractor Company of LaCrosse, Wis., used the motto
    The Happy Farmer Tractor Company of LaCrosse, Wis., used the motto "King of the Field" in 1916, before Pan ever thought of it.
  • This 1916 photo shows a Lion tractor running a small separator working in North Dakota.
    This 1916 photo shows a Lion tractor running a small separator working in North Dakota. This is one of the few action photos ever made of th eLion, since so few of the tractors were made.
  • The Pan Tank-Tread Tractor, shown in this stylized drawing, was said to be the tractor that
    The Pan Tank-Tread Tractor, shown in this stylized drawing, was said to be the tractor that "would win World War I." Only one of these tractors was ever made.
  • The Lion tractor in a 1916 advertisement. The company went bankrupt two years later due to patent litigation.
    The Lion tractor in a 1916 advertisement. The company went bankrupt two years later due to patent litigation.
  • Claims made of the Liberty tractor weren't exactly fradulent, but were difficult to believe, such as the one stating that the machine could be pushed around the showroom with one finger.
    Claims made of the Liberty tractor weren't exactly fradulent, but were difficult to believe, such as the one stating that the machine could be pushed around the showroom with one finger.

  • One of the business cards Paul B. Ford used while he was with the Ford Tractor Co. of Minneapolis
  • This Ford tractor – which was NOT made by Henry Ford – was a spiffy looking tractor, dark green with red fenders. The Ford Tractor Company of Minneapolis tried to trade on the name of Ford Motor Co. of Detroit, but went bankrupt in 1918.
  • The Happy Farmer Tractor Company of LaCrosse, Wis., used the motto
  • This 1916 photo shows a Lion tractor running a small separator working in North Dakota.
  • The Pan Tank-Tread Tractor, shown in this stylized drawing, was said to be the tractor that
  • The Lion tractor in a 1916 advertisement. The company went bankrupt two years later due to patent litigation.
  • Claims made of the Liberty tractor weren't exactly fradulent, but were difficult to believe, such as the one stating that the machine could be pushed around the showroom with one finger.

Before 1920, the tractor industry was in flux. Competition was fierce among the 200 tractor companies trying to sell their products, so to attract customers, some of them stretched the truth. 

Sometimes these truth-stretchings were relatively innocuous, like Eagle's claim their tractors ran as well on kerosene or gasoline, which testing proved was not so. Or Liberty Tractor Company's claim that "The fine adjustment of bearings makes the Liberty Tractor so light in draft that it can be pushed back and forth on the sample (showroom) floor with one finger." (Later amended to read "one hand.") These were not earth-shattering or fraudulent claims.

But the same could not be said for other tractor companies interested in making a quick buck. As C.H. Wendel writes in the Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, "For a few years, the tractor industry was a helter-skelter assortment of big companies, small operators, and outright charlatans."

Ford Tractor Company of Minneapolis

Ford Tractor Company of Minneapolis, Minn., had nothing to do with Henry Ford of Ford Motor Company, Dearborn, Mich.; and yet everything to do with it.



The point of the Ford tractor manufactured by Ford Tractor Company of Minneapolis in 1916 was to take advantage of the reputation of the Ford name, piggy-backing on the success of Henry Ford and his Model T automobiles. Nothing legally wrong with that: no Ford tractor existed at the time. However, the methods of Ford Tractor Company of Minneapolis clearly blurred ethical lines, and became fraud.

Henry Ford wanted to manufacture a tractor, but the success of his automobile kept him so busy W. Baer Ewing beat him to the Ford name in 1915.



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