Living History Farms has many 20th century tractors in our historic machinery collection. Some of these tractors are used for demonstration and to support the real farming work at our historic sites. A few of our tractors are not used very often at all because of their age and rarity. These machines are displayed on a more limited basis at harvest festivals. Here’s an inside peek at a rarely seen prize in the LHF collection–our 1918 Fordson F tractor.
In 1907, Henry Ford finished his first experimental tractor at his plant in Detroit. Ford referred to his first agricultural experiment as the “Automobile Plow.” Traction engines had been around for a while, but these were large, heavy, and expensive machines. Family farms were hungry for small and inexpensive tractors, and many people seized on the Ford Model T vehicle as a platform with which to create these less expensive machines.
The first prototypes of the new Henry Ford & Son tractor, which would later be called the Fordson Model F, were completed in 1916. At that time World War I was raging in Europe. Food was desperately needed to feed the massive armies that were doing battle, but the very manpower that would ordinarily be employed in farming made up those armies! Farm tractors were the answer to the problem. The Henry Ford & Son Company would build the machine that brought more power with less labor to small farms.
The Fordson Model F remained in production from 1917 to 1920 at the Henry Ford & Son plant in Dearborn, Michigan, and in 1921, its production finally began at the Ford Motor Company, first in the U.S.A. and then in the U.K. As in many of its contemporary tractors at the time, the Fordson ran on Kerosene and it required a small adaptation to run on gasoline.
The Fordson was indeed a revolutionary tractor. It was a smaller design than many of the tractors produced by other companies at the time. The smaller design of the Fordson allowed the tractor to be affordable and easy to produce. Especially important, the Fordson Model F tractors lacked a conventional frame. Instead, the engine, transmission, and axle housings were all bolted together to form the basic structure of the tractor. With the small size and innovative frame of the first Fordson Model F, the tractor was well-suited for the mass production Henry Ford had brought to the Model T. As a result, the machine could be sold at a much lower price affordable to average farmers. Just as Henry Ford had brought the car to the middle class through assembly line production, the tractor was now also within reach.
–Luis G. Vasquez, Museum Collections Manager