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The Tractor That Put Deere in Europe

In 1955, William Hewitt had a new job as president of Deere & Company. His passion for farm machinery and his desire to grow the green line internationally had him casting an eye to the rich European market.

Deere would have to play catch-up to the likes of Ford, International Harvester, and Massey-Ferguson, who had all established solid reputations in Europe. 

What the company needed, Hewitt believed, was an established manufacturer in Europe with a well-known name. Outside of the three companies mentioned previously, the most recognized name in horsepower on that continent was Lanz.

Besides making a line of 24 different tractor models, Lanz also produced pull-type and self-propelled combines and some implements. It operated a massive factory in Mannheim, Germany, as well as a factory in Spain that fed machines to Lanz Iberica.

A year after taking over as president, Hewitt and the Deere board of directors acquired Lanz. The investment paid off handsomely, helping to catapult Deere equipment sales in Europe.

Shared Legacy With Deere

The Lanz acquisition was a natural for Deere since the firms shared a common legacy. They both built their horsepower fame on the use of large horizontally operating cylinders.

With Deere, of course, it was the two-cylinder Johnny Popper. With Lanz, it was the single-cylinder Bulldog.

The Deere and Lanz organizations also enjoyed a considerable history in agriculture. Heinrich Lanz started in farm machinery in 1838, the year John Deere made his first steel plow. Finally, Lanz and Deere tractors earned a reputation of being very durable and easy to work on.

Lanz began business by importing machinery from abroad. In short order, he was building his own threshers and engines at a factory in Mannheim in 1859. By 1879, steam traction engines were coming out of Mannheim.

From the 1910s to the start of World War I, his company expanded greatly by adding motorized machinery. Lanz switched to making airplanes for the German government during World War I and then returned to farm machinery after hostilities ceased.

Despite a crippled economy, the company flourished in its efforts and introduced its first tractor in 1921, dubbed the Bulldog. This particular tractor was the first hot-bulb-fired tractor built. Two years later, Lanz would make history again by building one of the first articulated four-wheel-drive tractors in the world.

Lanz Bulldog Correct one

Bulldog Fame Builds

Yet, it was the plain and simple Bulldogs that made the company famous. The heart of these tractors was the two-stroke hot-bulb engine. These were simple power plants that could burn a wide variety of low-grade fuels, including waste oil. The power plant was inexpensive to make, easy to maintain, and, due to German engineering, very durable. 

The engine in the first Bulldog tractor was a 12-hp. affair with hopper (open-tank) cooling. That engine grew in power as the Bulldog line was expanded. Eventually, the largest Bulldog engine in the line would top off at 60 hp. 

Modern Amenities

In 1926, Bulldogs started appearing with radiator cooling and three-speed gearboxes. These HR series tractors (HR2, HR4, HR5, and HR6) ranged in size from 13 to 38 hp. By 1929, Lanz was equipping some of the HR models with pneumatic tires. 

The half-track system appeared at this same time, with full crawler tractors being built in 1934. The HR series put Lanz on the map with over 65,000 of the units selling. 

After the mid-1930s, the Lanz line continued to proliferate. Horsepower offerings expanded, as well, with a 55-hp. machine, the D01500. 

Again, a war put Lanz’s plans to make tractors on hold. Allied bombing nearly destroyed the Mannheim facility. 

Soon after the war ended, a stylized version of the Bulldog appeared in the model 1616 (shown right).

In 1954, the larger Bulldogs were replaced with D series machines, the largest of which turned out 60 hp. The transmissions became more elaborate, providing nine speeds.  

The next year was a high-water mark for Lanz with 24 different tractor models in its line. The company was approaching the notoriety of having built 200,000 Bulldogs worldwide.

The Deere Buyout

In 1956, Deere & Company acquired Lanz and set about to pare down the line. The next year, the line was shortened to 13 models, and the tractors began being painted Deere green and yellow (as shown at right in the model 6516). 

In 1960, Deere ended the single-cylinder Bulldog line, replacing it with its multicylinder New Generation tractors. 

By 1963, Deere surpassed IHC as the No. 1 producer of farm equipment in the world, assisted by Lanz’s reputation and distribution in Europe.

The Lanz legacy lives on today in the Mannheim, Germany, plant it founded. In 1984, the 750,000th tractor came out of that factory, bearing testimony to its importance to John Deere.

Read more about John Deere’s history in 100 Years of John Deere Tractors. 

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