When the name Henry Ford is mentioned, the first association is typically the automobile. While Ford’s contributions to the early auto industry are widely acknowledged, perhaps less well-known a century later is the role he played in easing the burden of life on a farm—something he experienced first-hand in his youth.
Henry Ford was fascinated with all things mechanical. Thus his thoughts and experiments often focused on how mechanization could make life a bit easier. In his autobiography, My Life and Work, Ford wrote, “To lift farm drudgery off flesh and blood and lay it on steel and motors has been my most constant ambition.” That motivation led him to begin developing a new tractor—originally dubbed the automobile plow—and eventually led to the birth of another mass-produced product in 1917, the Fordson tractor. Ford was the only company to manufacture cars, trucks, and tractors simultaneously.
The timing for the Fordson tractor couldn’t have been better. With hundreds of thousands of farm hands being shipped overseas for The Great War, the tractor made it possible for farmers to cultivate more land with fewer people in less time. Although the Fordson wasn’t the first tractor on the market, in true Ford fashion, the Fordson was more affordable than competitive models, thereby making it widely accessible and wildly successful.
Ford’s vision of relieving the drudgery of manual labor also helped farmers reduce their cost to work the land—something that would later prove invaluable with the onset of the Great Depression. An early government study validated the financial benefits of mechanization when it compared the cost to cultivate one acre of land with a tractor versus horse and plow. The cost to cultivate one acre with a tractor was $0.95 (including fuel, maintenance, and labor). Conversely, the cost for two teams of horses and two drivers was $1.46/ acre (including feed for eight horses for an entire year and wages for two drivers). Both figures excluded the purchase price of tractor and horses.
The Fordson Model F tractor shown above lay dormant on The Ford Plantation for decades before being lovingly restored to its original, fully-operational condition in 2012. The history of its use on the property is not fully known. However, it can be surmised that the tractor led a full and productive life performing any number of laborious tasks on the grounds perhaps including draining the swamp to help reduce malaria, cultivating fields to grow experimental crops in search of an alternative source for rubber, or perhaps even helping dig the trench for the tunnel that linked the Ford’s home to the on-site steam powerplant and research laboratory.
Like many a workhorse from a bygone era, the beautifully restored Fordson tractor has been put out to pasture. The only thing this tractor has furrowed in decades has been the brow of its dedicated restoration team in search of essential drive-train parts long out of production. Today the iconic machine lives out a hard-earned retirement only coming into the limelight for special events, parades and photo opportunities.
- 552,799 Model F and Model N were manufactured between 1917–1925
- Original $750 purchase price was lowered to $395 based on volume and competition
- Ford was the only company to manufacture cars, trucks, and tractors simultaneously
- Cost comparison to cultivate one acre of farmland:
- Eight horses and two drivers $1.46/acre
- Fordson tractor $0.95/acre