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Tractor Trendsetter: Fordson F

Jan 03, 2014

Tractor Trendsetter: Fordson F
Written By Larry Gay

Henry Ford created the Henry Ford & Son Company in November 1915 to develop and produce a farm tractor. In October 1917, the company began building 6,000 tractors for England and 1,000 for Canada to help with their food production during World War I. There was no identification on these 7,000 tractors and they have come to be known as MOM tractors, as they were built for England’s Ministry of Munitions. In April 1918, Henry Ford started producing this tractor for the U.S. market with the Fordson name on the upper radiator tank and the Henry Ford & Son name stamped into the end of the fuel tank. Henry Ford produced almost 102,000 Fordson tractors in 1923, which represented 77 percent of the tractors built that year. This made the Fordson F a tractor trendsetter.

The Fordson F tractor was a standard-tread tractor with a 2-plow rating and about 19 belt horsepower. It was equipped with a vertical, 4-cylinder engine which started on gasoline and ran on kerosene, a 3-speed transmission, and a worm-gear final drive. The tractor was designed with a minimum number of parts and was unique for its time with the engine, transmission case, and the final drive serving as the frame. Ignition was provided by magnets on the flywheel and a thermo-siphon system circulated water to cool the engine. The first production used a Hercules engine, but after Henry Ford became the sole owner of the Ford Motor Company in 1919 and folded the Henry Ford & Son Company into the larger company, Ford started building its own version of the engine.

The initial retail price of the Fordson F was $750, but was lowered to $625 in January 1921 when tractor production was moved to Ford’s massive Rouge factory. An agricultural depression started in mid-1920 and tractors experienced a big drop in sales. Then in January 1922 when the retail price of many tractors was about $1,000, Henry Ford shocked the struggling tractor industry by slashing the retail price of the Fordson to $395. This was less than what the tractor companies buying engines were paying for their engines. As a result, 113 of the 164 companies building tractors in 1919 were out of the tractor business by 1928. With its low retail price, the Fordson F was many farmers’ first tractor.

Although the Fordson tractor dominated the market from 1921-1926, it had its faults. It was often hard to start, especially if the operator forgot to switch back to running on gasoline before shutting off the engine. Water would boil in the radiator under a heavy load, requiring the operator to take both fuel and water to the field. Ford’s tractor engineer, Howard Simpson, developed a magneto and a water pump to correct these problems, but Henry Ford wouldn’t adopt them. By 1927, the Fordson tractor was experiencing sales resistance and production ended in the U.S. in 1928.

Next month, we will revisit the Fordson tractor and explain the real reason Henry Ford named his tractor Fordson, instead of Ford.

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.

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