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First Ford Tractor Wasn’t Henry’s
When Henry Ford started building tractors in 1915, he couldn’t call them Ford. A fast-thinking fraudster from Minneapolis beat him to the punch by forming The Ford Tractor Company.
William Baer Ewing formed the Ford Tractor Company in 1915, sold stock in the company, and took deposits from farmers. Some speculate that he planned to sell the company name to Henry Ford, but Ford had another idea. He called his tractors Fordson. By 1918 Ford had sold 6,000 Fordson tractors. Ewing had sold 30, and The Ford Tractor Company was bankrupt and with good reason. The Ford was a faulty design and the company a fraud.
In 1914 Ewing had purchased a tractor design from Lion Traction Company, also of Minnesota. That company had promoted its tractors and taken payments but never delivered. It produced only three actual tractors before being shut down by the courts in 1915.
To justify using the famous Ford name, Ewing hired Paul B. Ford and made him a director in the company. He also hired Robert Kinkead to modify the Lion tractor and submit patent applications on it. Kinkead insisted the design was flawed and left the company rather than be associated with it.
Ewing collected $75 payments from farmers eager to have a “Ford” tractor. His 1916 advertised price was $350, fully equipped with magneto, carburetor, governor, and coil. He also sold stock.
As farmers demanded their promised tractors and stockholders demanded dividends, the scheme unraveled. The company soon went bankrupt.
The silver lining in the cloud is the Nebraska Tractor Tests. The gold standard in motive farm equipment for the past 100 years, the testing regime resulted from the failure of The Ford Tractor Company.
One of the frustrated farmers was a Nebraska legislator. He proposed legislation requiring any tractor sold in the state to be tested by the University of Nebraska.
Today you can see one of those 30 first Ford tractors at Jack’s Urban Meeting Place (J.U.M.P) in Boise, Idaho. It’s part of the J.U.M.P. tractor collection and a major part of the reason farmers can buy tractors with confidence.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Jack’s Urban Meeting Place, 1000 W. Myrtle St., Boise, Idaho 83702 (ph 208-639-6610; assist@jumpboise.org; www.jumpboise.org/vintage-tractors) or www.farmcollector.com/tractors/minnesota-machines/).

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2022 - Volume #46, Issue #5