Written by Larry Gay
In late October 1938, Harry Ferguson of England brought a Ferguson-Brown tractor with a hydraulically-controlled hitch to the U.S. and demonstrated his tractor and attached implements to Henry Ford. Ford was very impressed with how Ferguson’s tractor outperformed the Allis-Chalmers B and Fordson tractors that Ford used for comparison. As a result, Ford and Ferguson sat at a table in the field and worked out an agreement that Ford would manufacture a tractor with Ferguson’s patented hitching system and Ferguson would market the tractor and implements. The discussion ended with a handshake and was never put in writing.
Ten Ford engineers, led by Harold Brock, started designing the new tractor in January 1939. Two of Ferguson’s assistants helped adopt the hydraulic-hitching system into the tractor. To simplify the design process, the Ford engineers used many production automobile and truck parts and the 4-cylinder, 120-cubic-inch engine was derived from the Mercury V-8 automobile engine.
On June 29, 1939, the Ford-Ferguson 9N tractor was introduced to the press and the public. The 9N was a small, low-profile tractor with the operator’s seat positioned immediately above the transmission case, requiring the operator to straddle the transmission. Although the tractor had four wheels with one on each corner, it was not a standard-tread tractor because the wheels could be adjusted to match the spacing of row crops and the front axle had 21 inches of clearance. The 9N was the first example of what we now identify as a utility tractor.
One of the biggest problems encountered during the development process was what name to put on the tractor. Eventually it was decided to put the Ford name on one plate and Ferguson System on another plate. The tractor weighed about 2,140 pounds and the initial retail price was $585. About the first 750 were built with a cast aluminum hood until the stamping dies for the sheet metal hood were built.
The trade magazines were impressed by the unique hitching system on the rear of the tractor for attaching a series of wheel-less implements. Demonstrations during the introduction meeting emphasized the ease of attaching the implements, backing into corners, and the weight transfer to the tractor’s rear wheels. This hitching system soon became known as a 3-point hitch.
The 9N model became the 2N during World War II with the material changes required due to the war, but the serial number retained the 9N prefix. From 1939 through 1947, Ford Motor Company built about 99,000 of the 9N and 207,000 of the 2N for a total of about 306,000 tractors.
Harold Brock continued to lead the Ford tractor engineers until 1959. By 1963, he was the leader of the John Deere tractor engineers when the John Deere 4020 tractor was introduced. Two classic tractors in one engineer’s lifetime is an outstanding achievement. Harold Brock passed away on January 2, 2011 at the age of 96.
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 at 800-695-2723 or asabe.org, click publications and then click history books.