Tractor Trendsetter: Fordson Revisted
Written By Larry Gay
Why did Henry Ford name his tractor Fordson instead of Ford? This was a popular question until someone learned there was a Ford Tractor Company in Minneapolis, with an employee named Paul Ford, that had a tractor named Ford on the market before Henry Ford stated selling his tractor. This person decided this had to be the reason Henry couldn’t name his tractor Ford and this story has been repeated in almost every book and article written about the Fordson tractor during the last thirty years.
But did Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company know there was a Ford Tractor Company in Minneapolis? There is no mention of the Minneapolis Ford Company in any of the books written about Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company. None of the booklets of recollections by the people who helped Henry Ford develop his tractor, which are filed in the archives at The Henry Ford, (the new name for the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village) make any reference to the Ford Tractor Company. Giant corporations are very protective of their brand names, but there is no record of the Ford Motor Company taking legal action against the Ford Tractor Company. Finally, I found a clue in the Beyond the Model T book written by Ford Bryan. I took this bit of information back to my contact at The Henry Ford archives and she sent me the documentation which explains the real reason the tractor was not named Ford.
The Ford Motor Company was incorporated in June 1903 by Henry Ford and 11 other stockholders, including the two Dodge brothers who supplied components for building Ford autos. After the Model T car was introduced in 1908 and its production moved to the new Highland Park factory in about 1910, Henry Ford renewed his interest in building a small tractor. In 1913 he had Joe Galamb, who had helped design the Model T, and his assistant, Eugene Farkas, develop a lightweight, low-cost tractor using many Model T components. However, the Model T type tractor was not successful, because it could only pull a one-bottom plow at a plowing depth of about four inches.
By this time, Henry Ford had bought shares from some of the original stockholders and owned 58 percent of the Ford Motor Company. However, the remaining stockholders didn’t want their rich dividends diluted by the cost of developing a tractor and building a tractor factory. For example, the two Dodge brothers still owned 10 percent of the company and were receiving about $1 million a year in dividends which they were using to expand their car company. Therefore in November 1915, Henry Ford established a separate Henry Ford and Son Company to develop a tractor. Joe Galamb remained with the Ford Motor Company as the auto engineer and Eugene Farkas was assigned to the new tractor company. One Ford tractor book states Galamb was fired at this time and another one says he was hired at this time to develop a tractor, but both books are wrong. Charles Sorensen was transferred to the new company to transform an old brick yard in Dearborn into a tractor factory. Farkas proceeded to design and develop a new tractor which eventually became the Fordson.
Henry Ford’s two companies were officially divided at a Ford Motor Company board of directors’ meeting on February 2, 1916. Henry Ford agreed to pay the Ford Motor Company $46,810.76 for the cost of past tractor development work and the Ford Motor Company agreed to give up all claims to designs, patterns, and patents pertaining to tractors. The agreement was amended to include the statement: "Provided that nothing herein contained be construed to prevent the Ford Motor Company from entering into the tractor business at any time and in so doing to use its own name "FORD" and provided also that Mr. Ford use his own first name in connection with the name "FORD" in said tractor business."
This agreement between the two companies is the real reason Henry named his tractor Fordson, a contraction of the Henry Ford and Son Company name. The Ford Motor Company knew who owned the Ford name, even if the Ford Tractor Company or the person who first fabricated the myth didn’t.
Larry Gay is the author of four tractor books published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, including A Guide to Ford, Fordson, and New Holland Tractors. This book may be obtained from ASABE by calling 800-695-2723.