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Museum Celebrates Froelich, Founder Of The Modern Tractor
The birth of what would eventually become the John Deere tractor took place in 1892. John Froelich invented the first gasoline-powered traction engine that could be driven forward and backward.     
While they didn’t use the word tractor yet, that’s what it became. Froelich had been frustrated with the challenges of the steam engines he used while threshing and decided they could do better.
He chose gasoline, and that first engine would be a hit. Froelich and a group of investors started the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company in 1893, intending to produce the first tractors.
Froelich was the company’s first president. The Waterloo Gasoline Traction Company initially built four tractors. Farmers bought the first two but returned them because they didn’t understand how they worked.
At that point, the company changed direction by building just stationary engines. While this generated income, it wasn’t Froelich’s or the company’s desire. Their true desire was still to focus on building “traction engines.”
Due to a financial depression in 1895, Froelich left the company after he lost his investment in the organization. The business then reorganized into the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company.
The company continued working on traction engines, even after Froelich left. It designed the Waterloo Boy model R in 1914, followed by the N. The success of both got the attention of John Deere.
Deere bought the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company for $2.5 million in 1918, which, in today’s economy, is about $40 million. The sad part of the story is Froelich, despite inventing the tractor engine, didn’t see a single penny from that sale or make any money off his invention.
John Froelich received 14 patents throughout his lifetime. Seven of those are directly connected to his Froelich tractor.
Nonetheless, John Froelich is someone who “changed agricultural history,” according to Denise Schutte, Executive Director and Curator of the Froelich Tractor Museum. That was history worth preserving.
“People in our community got together and formed the Froelich Foundation for the Preservation of Farm Tractor History,” she says. “This was in September 1986.
The Froelich Foundation operates the Froelich Tractor and 1890’s Village Museum 8 miles west of McGregor. The museum contains many artifacts and a lot of information about Froelich’s first tractor and what life was like in the late 19th century.
“As far as we know, there are no original Froelich tractors left anywhere,” Schutte says. “But we do have a 1/2-scale replica of the Froelich tractor in our museum built by a couple of local fellows.”
The museum also has a replica of a Froelich tractor built at about 2/3 scale of the original. The museum staff gets this replica out for a local celebration called “Fall-Der-All” Days during the last full weekend of September.
It’s a 2-day festival that includes a full line-up of all types of tractors and hit-and-miss engines, kids’ activities, and a kids’ pedal pull. It’s a great time to see old-time demonstrations and tour the seven historical buildings in the 1890’s village.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Denise Schutte, Froelich Foundation, 24397 Froelich Road, McGregor, Iowa 52157 (ph 563-536-2841; froelichtractor1892@yahoo.com; www.froelichtractor.com).

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2023 - Volume #47, Issue #1