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Tractor Trendsetters: Hart-Parr Company

Jan 22, 2010

Written by Larry Gay

The Hart-Parr Company of Charles City, Iowa, started building gasoline traction engines in 1902 and has been recognized by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers as the builder of the first commercially successful tractor powered by an internal combustion engine. “Commercially successful” are the key words in the recognition statement as others such as Charter, Froelich, Paterson, and Huber had tried to build gasoline traction engines in the 1890s.  

Charles Hart and Charles Parr started building gasoline engines in Madison, Wisconsin, after receiving their engineering degrees from the University of Wisconsin in 1896. In 1901, they built a new larger factory in Hart’s home town of Charles City, Iowa. The first two tractors, Hart-Parr No. 1 and No. 2, were built in 1902 and had different configurations and drive trains. However, both were powered with a horizontal, 2-cylinder engine with a 9-inch bore and a 13-inch stroke. The company rated them at 17 drawbar horsepower and 30 belt horsepower.

In 1903, Hart-Parr built 14 of the 17-30 tractors and 24 of the more powerful 22-40 size. The two models were similar, but the 22-40’s engine had a 10-inch bore and a 15-inch stroke. The transmission provided one forward speed and one in reverse. The written warranty stated these tractors would successfully operate a threshing outfit and pull it over the road. The standard drive train was not designed to pull a plow, but three of the 22-40 tractors were equipped with a heavy-duty drive train for pulling a plow. All 40 of these tractors were sold and none were returned.

One of the 17-30 tractors built in 1903, serial number 1207, still exists today and is known as Hart-Parr No.3. It was sold to a farmer near Charles City and the company bought it back in 1924. However, in the following years the company misidentified it as an 18-30 with a 10-inch bore and a 13-inch stroke. This has resulted in almost every article and book about the early Hart-Parr tractors describing this tractor as being different than the other tractors built in 1903. However, all of the early Hart-Parr information describes No. 3 as a 17-horsepower machine and I measured a 9-inch bore and a 13-inch stroke when it was restored in 2003.

By the end of 1907, Hart-Parr had started using the word “tractor” to replace “gasoline traction engine,” the 17-30 model had been discontinued, the tractors could burn kerosene or gasoline, almost all of the 22-40 tractors were being built with the heavy-duty drive train, and the company had built 507 tractors. The Hart-Parr sales catalogs issued from 1904 through 1907 describe the tractor with the 10-inch bore and 15-inch stroke as a 22-40 and the 22-45 doesn’t appear until the 1908 catalog. However, later company publications erroneously described the tractors built from 1903 through 1907 as a 22- 45.

Larry Gay is the author of four farm tractor books, including A Guide to Hart-Parr, Oliver and White Farm Tractors. This book may be obtained from ASABE at 800-695-2723 or www.asabe.org, click publications, click history, click Oliver.

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