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The Fordson Sensation
That the Fordson would become the most popular tractor ever built in the world was inevitable. After all, its creator, former farm boy Henry Ford, built one of the most popular cars of all time: the Model T.
So it was only a matter of time before Ford would apply assembly-line manufacturing – a technique he’d mastered on a grand scale – to tractors and come to dominate the market.
Still, what the Fordson accomplished, even with such a pedigree, shouldn’t be viewed as anything less than epic. For during the 1920s, the world tractor market consisted of the Fordson and just some other tractors.
The tractor so dominated agriculture that when its production ended in 1928, nearly 850,000 Fordsons had been built. No other tractor prior to or since would come close, even by half, to matching that massive accomplishment.
The Fordson’s success was certainly not based on its advanced technology. The tractor’s only claim to fame in thatregard was its use of unit frame construction. This technique, first utilized on the Wallis Cub, did away with the traditional frame and, instead, married the engine block with the transmission and rear axle housings. Soon, all tractors would be built in this manner.
That Infamous Transmission
Otherwise, the Fordson was a basic machine hosting first a Hercules and then a Ford four-cylinder engine. To its detriment, the tractor had a reputation for being hard to steer, hot to sit on, and somewhat dangerous. The cause of the latter two distinctions was the tractor’s worm-gear-drive transmission that generated a lot of heat under constant draft (such as when plowing) or would cause the machine to flip backward when used on an unmovable object like a tree stump.
The Fordson was the rock star of its generation for one simple reason. It was cheap.
Prior to its introduction, tractors commonly sold from $1,000 to $3,000 and beyond. That was a huge amount to absorb for the vast majority of farmers who were tired of trailing behind mules or horses.
Henry Ford applied cost-efficient production to the Fordson and introduced it in 1918 for $785. By March of that year, Ford’s plant was turning out 65 Fordsons a day.
By the end of that year, the number had jumped to 131 a day. In 1921, production was up to 300 tractors daily!
Then the country hit a severe economic downturn and Ford, who had invested heavily in a massive new manufacturing facility, was strapped for cash and facing bankruptcy.
In response, Ford went about slashing manufacturing costs. Then he cut tractor prices drastically – first down to $620 and then to $395.
Sales Skyrocket Worldwide
That gambit worked. Sales took off. By the end of 1921, over 35,000 Fordsons had sold, making it the number one tractor in America. In comparison, Deere sold 5,634 Waterloo Boys and IHC sold 20,937 of its two tractor models.
Not satisfied, Ford pushed harder. Tractor sales continued to respond jumping to 67,000 in 1922 and then to 104,168 in 1925, the peak of Fordson production. That last figure would never be repeated by another tractor model or even a series of models again in history.
Those were just the sales in the U.S.; Fordsons were being built in England, as well. That country kept turning out tractors long after production ceased in the U.S. in 1928. So popular was the Fordson name in Europe, tractors would continue to be built bearing that moniker until 1964.
Back in the U.S., however, Ford ignored the enormous market he had created for tractors. He didn’t produce another tractor until 1939 for the U.S. market when he introduced the famous Ford-Ferguson 9N. That tractor and its successors, the models 2N and 8N, would go on to become the most successful tractor series of all time.