Farming can a tough life, even in today’s modern age of GPS guided tractors and pest resistant seeds, but imagine what life was like for a farmer 150 to 200 years ago. Up until the late 1700s, farmers used oxen and horses for power and crude wooden plows. They sowed seed by hand, cultivated by hoe, used a sickle to cut hay and grains, and threshed it with a flail. (Horse-drawn equipment photos courtesy of Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives: Commons.
Then came the farm “technology” revolution. The cotton gin was invented in 1793, the moldboard plow was invented by Thomas Jefferson in 1794 and it was followed by the first cast iron plow in 1797.
The American agricultural revolution really took off in the 1800’s though. New plows and the McCormick reaper were patented, new methods of mechanical threshing were invented, the first steam powered engine was invented in 1812 to drive a corn threshing machine, and even the first mixed chemical fertilizers were sold commercially. These inventions were revolutionizing farming, but farmers still relied on the tried and true horse and oxen for the “heavy lifting” around the farm.
But 1868 heralded a new revolution for American farming with the use of the first of the steam powered farm tractors, though they were mainly used in road hauling and mostly by the timber industry. However, this was a start and would spur other inventors to look for better ways to power these traction machines. In 1897 the Charter Gasoline Engine Company of Sterling, Illinois created the first gasoline powered traction engine – or what would become known as the tractor. The first factory-built traction engine, called the Hart-Parr No. 1, was built in 1901. Then automobile pioneer Henry Ford got into the tractor building business and successfully produced his first gasoline powered tractor, or “automobile plow” as it was called in 1907. His Fordson tractor in 1917 would become one of the first extremely popular mass-produced tractors.
As America embraced the gasoline powered automobile, American farmers would embrace the gasoline powered tractor. Though some farmers still held to horse power well into the 1930s, many farmers realized how much easier tractors made their daily lives. Names like Ford, Massey-Ferguson, Allis-Chalmers, Oliver, Case, John Deere, Farmall, Minneapolis Moline, International Harvester, and more would soon go on to become “household” names.
Come see history up close and in action at our annual Gallant Farm Tractor Show on Saturday, June 3, from 10 am to 4 pm. You can also see our vintage Ford 2N up close and sometimes in action on the farm during open hours. For more information on the tractor show click on the program calendar, and then click on June 3.