One time tractor capital of the world
At first, it seemed like it was just coincidence. I’d begun noticing all these firms that, at one time or another, were building tractors in Minneapolis. With my interest piqued, I sat down with a dozen history books one afternoon. Soon my list of Minneapolis-based firms included 75 names. Throw in those companies that built tractors in St. Paul (completing the Twin Cities area), and the list stretched to 94.
A comparison with other locales revealed that no other city – let alone region of the nation – had been home to so many tractor companies. What inspired such a plethora of firms to spring up in one location? The answer lay in a local need for tractors and ready access to raw materials.
In the late 1800s, the wide prairie of the Northern Plains was rapidly being broken up. The tough native sod spread across massively wide open spaces inspired a generation of huge steam-traction engines pulling equally massive plows or driving huge threshing machines. The Twin Cities’ ready access to high-quality iron ore and coal (from northern Minnesota) spawned a manufacturing center to build farm horsepower.
One of the first companies to establish itself in the city was the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company. Founded in 1887, Minnie Threshing began by building threshers; it quickly expanded its capacity to turn out steam-traction engines in 1891 and then tractors in 1911 (which were first built for the company by Universal Tractor Company in nearby Stillwater, Minnesota).
In time, Minnie Threshing would merge with Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Company (builders of Twin City tractors) and Moline Plow Company in 1929 to form machinery giant Minneapolis-Moline.
Today, none of the firms that operated in the Twin Cities survives except The Toro Company; it stopped building farm tractors in 1927 to focus on turf products.