Raised on a farm, Henry Ford had a personal interest in the creation of a small tractor for farmers. His first tractor, built mainly with auto parts in 1907, was known as an “automobile plow”. This early experimental vehicle can be seen today at the Henry Ford Museum.
With shareholders of the company sceptical about the prospects of a tractor, Ford had to set up a company Henry Ford & Son, in order to get into the business of Ford tractors. His first model, the Fordson F, left the assembly line in 1916. It had a four-cylinder engine, a three-speed transmission, and an affordable price of $ 750. In this Ford tractors replicated their achievement in the automobile market by producing the first low cost mass market tractor
Ford tractors came just at the right time. When the First World War broke out in 1914, tractors quickly assumed much greater importance. The war drained manpower from the farms around the country, while dramatically increasing demand for food. An affordable, mass-produced tractor was just what Uncle Sam needed to keep agricultural production at high speed. The Depression put an end temporarily to the production of Ford tractors in the U.S., but the growing demand in the Soviet Union prompted Ford to keep the tractor manufacturing plant in Cork in Ireland. Back in the U.S. Ford Henry made a “handshake” agreement to produce a version of the Ferguson-Brown tractor developed by fellow entrepreneur Harry Ferguson. This was the beginning of the Ford “N” series of tractors, beginning with the model 9N.When materials were scarce during the Second World War, a modified version was developed 9N-2N-dubbed “the steel” to preserve materials needed for tanks and ships.
Mr. Ford died in 1947, leaving his grandson Henry Ford II in the control of the Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford II made clear his intentions to take control of the tractor market after the Model 8N (a 9N/2N improved). This rapid movement forced Ferguson’s company to embark on one of the longest and most expensive claims in the history of the nation. Ford tractor had eventually to pay a massive $9.25M to Ferguson for the infringement on his patents. As a result Ford was forced to change the hydraulic system and some other items to avoid further patent infringement of Ferguson’s design. The Ford NAA, also called the Jubilee, was launched in 1953 with these new features.
It is very difficult to write a brief history of the ford tractors N series. The span of years across which these tractors were built covered two world wars and the Great Depression. The development and production of the N Series Ford tractors was only a small part of these massive world events.
Many of the inventions attributed to Henry Ford were allegedly actually the work of others. While Henry Ford did not invent the automobile assembly line, or the tractor, it might be more accurate to say that much of the genius of Henry Ford was the ability to select and sponsor the best ideas.
In 1938 Harry Ferguson was working on his tractor and hydraulic system control project in the U.S. for a show with Henry Ford. The new Ford-Ferguson 9N tractor was developed using the best ideas from the engineers at Ford and Ferguson. Model 9N first left the assembly line for model year 1939. All subsequent 9N and 2N tractors were manufactured by Ford, but were marketed and sold under the Ford-Ferguson marque.
The Ford tractors N series with the Ferguson system created new standards for small tractors that were later adopted by almost all tractor manufacturers. The Ferguson System was a significant improvement on the drawbars used in other systems.
For the first time a tractor had a 3 point hitch and a rear power take off. The beauty of the Ferguson 3 point hitch was that it untilised the drag of the towed implement, such as a plough, to increase the overall down force on the tractor’s rear wheels, thus greatly increasing the traction. This solved some of the problems on the previous Ford tractors which could flip over if the plough hit an obstacle.
The new system allowed the Ferguson Ford tractor to be smaller, quieter, safer and more efficient than most other tractors of the time. For the first time a tractor could actually be operated by most women and even children! With the manufacturing methods of Henry Ford’s mass production plant, the new Ford tractors could be built and sold at a much lower price than the competition.
The final model in the N series of Ford Tractors was the 8N which was introduced in 1947. The main changes in this model were the addition of a 4 speed gearbox, leading to an increase in power available to the power take off and changes to the hydraulics system which served the dual purpose of evading the patent conditions on Ferguson’s invention and increased flexibility in working in differing soil types.