Outside the Box: The Heider Tractor

The story of Heider tractors and the companies that made them is an unusual one.


| April 2015



1925 Rock Island-Heider Model C tractor

As demonstrated by this 1925 Rock Island-Heider Model C, Heider tractors were eye-catching, with red wheels and lime green bodies accentuated by red and yellow stripes.

Photo by Nikki Rajala

Heider Manufacturing Co., Carroll, Iowa, was a curious tractor company for several reasons. First, because of the time it took inventor H.J. Heider to create its first tractor; second, because of the unique drive system he used for the Heider; third, because of the company’s brief tenure in the tractor business; and fourth, because of the extensive amount of time the Heider tractor was manufactured by another company.

Brothers join forces

H.J. (Henry) Heider farmed in southern Minnesota, where at age 21 he was awarded his first patent (of 20) for a four-horse evener. He ran a successful repair business until 1903, when he outgrew his capacity to farm, repair and invent, because of the high demand for his evener. At that point, he and his older brother, John (an accountant), went into business together, forming Heider Mfg. Co., Albert Lea, Minnesota.

The young company quickly outgrew its small shop. In 1904, the brothers incorporated and sold stock valued at $18,000 to build a full-size, concrete-block factory in Carroll, Iowa, more centrally located for their trade. There they could expand to meet the demands of their new business.

They manufactured eveners up to six-horse capacity, as well as double- and single-tree yokes and step- and extension-ladders to use up their scrap lumber. The ladders sold so well that, in 1906, they could afford to buy a new 10 hp Lambert engine to aid in the factory work. In 1908, they bought a 25 hp Lambert engine. These engines – built by Buckeye Mfg. Co., Anderson, Indiana – would be important in the later development of Heider tractors.

Slow-building a tractor

Meanwhile, Henry tinkered with design of new parts and machines for the factory. In 1908, company ledgers first registered expenses for building a tractor, but three years passed before the tractor made its debut.

By that time, other companies had jumped into tractor manufacture. John William Lambert of Buckeye Mfg. Co. also built Lambert & Buckeye tractors with a friction drive transmission. Lambert is often credited with inventing the friction-drive. Doubtless Lambert engines and the company’s early friction drive tractors were a heavy influence on Henry Heider’s desire to produce a friction-drive tractor.