The Utilitor: Big Power for Small Operations

Utilitor garden tractors were one of the first brands available, and remained on the market longer than most brands.


| August 2012



Utilitor Dealer

In this undated photo, a proud Utilitor dealer, along with his entire staff, posing with a new tractor.

Today a large percentage of homeowners own a riding lawn tractor, even if all the grass they have to mow is a tiny, postage stamp-sized city lot. Rarely is one of these tractors used for anything resembling garden tillage, which was their original purpose back in the day.

Big, heavy, gasoline- and kerosene-powered tractors were introduced to farmers around the turn of the 20th century. Even though the size and weight of these behemoths was greatly reduced during the following two decades, they were still way too large and expensive for the truck farmer or market gardener. Those individuals usually made do with hand tools, or maybe a single horse or mule.

The earliest garden tractors weren’t riding models. They had two drive wheels and the operator walked behind, steering with handles. A wide variety of implements was available. Most were hitched at the rear of the tractor beneath the handles, although front-mounted mowers (both cutter bar and reel types) and blades were common.

Garden tractors were first listed in the Farm Implement News Buyer’s Guide for 1920. There were only a few, among which were names such as Beeman, Universal, Merry, Hurst, Midwest Utilitor and the New Britain, which could do “ … virtually all the work ordinarily done by a horse and a 6 hp engine — and do it better, faster and cheaper. It fills a crying need on thousands of small farms, truck farms, seed farms, nurseries, orchards, vineyards and country estates.”     

Birth of the Utilitor

One of these early machines, on the market longer than most, was the Utilitor, originally made by the Midwest Engine Co., Indianapolis, and later by General Implement Co. of America, Inc., with offices in Cleveland.

Atlas Engine Works was established in Indianapolis in the 1870s to build steam engines and boilers. By 1900 the firm had developed gasoline engines; a 1906 ad offering 2 to 5 hp vertical and 6 to 24 hp horizontal engines made the following claims for Atlas gas engines: (the) “Simplest, Cheapest, Safest of All. Most Economical, Simplest of Its Kind, Ready to Run, Needs No Attention, Starts Without ‘Cranking,’ Absolute Safety, Reliable and Durable and Completely Guaranteed.”