Early History of the Hart-Parr Co.

College chums Charles Hart and Charles Parr build the Hart-Parr Co. on the foundation of friendship.

| June 2019


One of the more famous names among rusty iron enthusiasts is that of the Hart-Parr Co., which has more than one claim to fame. Hart-Parr built the first practical internal combustion tractor engine, was the first factory to build tractors on a production line basis and, although the term “tractor” wasn’t coined by Hart-Parr, as is often claimed, they were perhaps the first to apply it to what was then called a “gasoline traction engine.”

The two men who fathered the company, Charles Herbert Parr and Charles Walker Hart, were fascinating individuals and fast friends throughout their lives, but opposites in temperament and ambition.

Hart was born in Charles City, Iowa, in 1872. He worked at his father’s lumber business and farm before entering the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1893. Charles Parr, born in Wisconsin in 1868, loved to tinker with his father’s farm machinery and worked at Eclipse Wind Engine Co., Beloit, Wisconsin, before he too went to the University of Wisconsin, in 1893.

As the two young men were both enrolled in the college’s mechanical engineering department, it’s not surprising that they met and, due to sharing common interests, became fast friends. They even began to operate a small machine shop to repair farm machines in Madison while still in college. That is where their experiments with internal combustion engines began.

Expansion triggers move

To earn special honors at graduation, Hart and Parr wrote an extensive thesis describing the history and development of internal combustion engines, which at that time were still pretty primitive, as well as explaining their ideas on ignition, timing, governing and carburetion. To demonstrate their ideas, they built a 2-cylinder vertical valve-in-head engine that was much simpler and lighter in weight than the engines then in use.


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