The first tractors in the United States were introduced in the middle of the 19th century and were powered by steam. Known as traction engines, the source of the word "tractor," these steam tractors were used for both plowing and threshing. Manufacturers of early steam tractors included Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co., J.I. Case, and Advance-Rumely.

In 1892, an Iowa inventor named John Froelich built the first gasoline-powered tractor, although acceptance of this new technology would not become widespread until the beginning of the 20th century. During that period, many of the most familiar names in the farm-equipment business got into the tractor trade, from International Harvester (1906) to J.I. Case (1912) to Allis-Chalmers (1914) to John Deere, which bought out Froelich in 1918. Even car-maker Henry Ford got into the act when, in 1918, the first Fordson tractors rolled off Ford’s Dearborn assembly line (Ford withdrew from the farm-equipment business in 1927).

Early International Harvester tractors included the Mogul, which ran on kerosene, gasoline, or naptha and had a single, easy-to-repair cylinder. In its first year of production, 1906, the tractor’s engine ranged from 10 to 20 horsepower, and friction drove its wheels. Within a year the friction drive was dumped for gears and the tractor’s power had been increased to 25hp.

In the mid-1910s, the 4-cyclinder Titan appeared, and by the end of the decade, International Harvester came out with the Junior, whose engine was enclosed under a bonnet in a style that defined tractor design for decades to come. Both competed with another International Harvester tractor, the blue-bodied, red-wheeled McCormick-Deering 15-30, which was used by wheat farmers throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s.

One of the most famous International Harvesters was the Farmall, introduced in 1920. This all-around tractor had a wide rear axle so that the wheels could ride between rows during cultivating. The first Farmall was called the Regular, followed by models F-20 and F-30, some of which were configured with a wide axle in the front and high clearances. Other pre-war Farmalls included the Model A Cultivision (designed to cultivate a single row), the 8hp Cub, and the Raymond Loewy-designed Farmall H, all of which were painted a deep, classic red.

The first Case tractors had enormous engines (30 to 60hp), although tractors with smaller engines quickly followed. These three-wheel, "cross-motor" tractors had 4-cylinder engines, but the breakthrough for the company came in 1929 with the release of the Case L and its smaller cousin, the C, whose in-line engine became an industry standard. In the 1930s, Case introduced the D series (painted in Flambeau red and black) and the R series, whose grilles had an Art Deco sunburst design. The unprofitable V made the 1940s a shaky decade for the company, but Case got back on track in the 1950s with the Case 300 and 400, which set a record in 1956 for fuel economy.

In contrast, the first Allis-Chalmers tractors started out small (6 to 12hp). Low, orchard versions of these tractors were produced, as was a model with spiked wheels. By 1922, i...

John Deere’s first years in the tractor business were spent manufacturing bright-green Waterloo Boy tractors, which was the name of the Froelich tractor company it had purchased in 1918. Deere’s first non-Froelich tractor was the model D, whose 2-cylinder horizontal engine remained in production for more than 30 years. The GP followed in 1929, although reviews were not good (it was underpowered, among other problems), the Henry Dreyfuss designed A appeared in 1934, and the first Deere diesel, the 2-cylinder model R, arrived in 1949. Among other landmarks, it was the first John Deere tractor to feature the company’s now famous "leaping deer" logo.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Steel Wheels

Steel Wheels

David Parfitt's excellent and comprehensive tribute to pre-1930s tractors. The well-posed, high resolution photos i… [read review or visit site]

McCormick International Harvester Collection

McCormick International Harvester Collection

Farm and tractor collectors will appreciate this incredible trove of 30,000 images and documents on the Internation… [read review or visit site]

A great reference and community forum on antique tractors. Start with the 39-page master photo list, showing thousa… [read review or visit site]

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

John Deere L La Antique Tractor No Reserve Farmall Alis Oliver A B G H D1949 Ford 8n Antique Tractor No Reserve 9n 2n Jubilee Deere Farmall Oliver AllisJohn Deere Antique Tractor 800 801 Three Point Hitch 50 60 70 A B G Farmall Antique 1938 John Deere B Long Frame Tractor* Vtg Oliver 5-6 Plow Super 99 Gm Diesel Tractor Brochure ** Vtg Oliver Power Units Tractor Brochure ** Vtg Better Farming Summer 1958 Tractor Brochure ** Vtg Its Full Speed Ahead John Deere Model R Diesel Tractor Brochure ** Vtg Minneapolis Moline G-704 4 Wheel Drive Tractor Brochure *Vintage John Deere Tractor Booklet Lawn & Garden Tractor* Vtg John Deere Model L General Purpose Tractor Brochure ** Vtg Farming For Less With Fordson Major Diesel Tractor Brochure ** Vtg Oliver Power Units Tractor Brochure *Antique TractorWd 45 Tractor* Vtg Oliver Model Oc-6 3-plow Crawler Tractor Brochure *1992 John Deere 4760 Tractor2006 John Deere 3120 Tractor1991 John Deere 4555 Mfwd Tractor Minnesota Nice John Deere 2550 4 X 4 Tractor Only 2717 Hours1989 John Deere 4650 TractorFord 7610 Boom Mower Tractor With Tiger Long Arm Mower. Nice Ford 3930 2wd Diesel Lefthand Shuttle 1248 Hours Nice John Deere 750 4 X 4 Diesel Tractor Only 1070 Hours1987 John Deere 2155 UsedJohn Deere 850 Tractor 1500 HrsJohn Deere 850 Tractor 1500 Hrs1960 Ford 601 Workmaster Used600 Ford Tractor With 5-speed1978 John Deere 950d UsedInternational 340 Utility Diesel Antique Tractor No Reserve Farmall Deere Allis 1941 John Deere H Antique Tractor No Reserve Farmall Oliver Allis A B G D M RVery Nice John Deere 750 4 X 4 Diesel Belly Mower Tractor 1939 John Deere B Antique Tractor No Reserve Round Spokes Farmall Oliver Allis A1951 Farmall H Antique Tractor No Reserve A B G H D M C Deere Allis Oliver Antique Anvil 200 Pounds Vintage Very Nice Tractor Blacksmith Forge Deere Allis1948 Farmall M Antique Tractor No Reserve Fenders Belt Pulley Deere Allis OliverJohn Deere 630 Tractor.1946 Ih Farmall H Tractor For Sale With 2 Row Cultivators Read DescriptionVintage Ford Tractor Authorized Dealer Sign. Vintage Dearborn Ford Tractor SignDowagiac Antique Grain Drill Tractor Rare Farmall Deere Allis Oliver Case A B G Ford 4600 Tractor Farm Set In Box Ertl Vintage Farm ToysVintage Hubley Ford 961 Powermaster Tractor - Mint Condition With Original BoxVintage Ertl Tv Green Acres Antique Fordson Tractor NrfbVintage Eska, Ertl, Farmall 450 Toy Tractor With Tru-scale Grain Drill 1/16thVintage John Deere Farm Tractor Equipment 11" Porcelain Metal Gasoline+ Oil SignVintage Original 1950's John Deere Toy Tractor Made In U.s.a.Vintage Ertl 1:16 Scale John Deere 8630 Toy Tractor In Original Box No. 597!!Antique Cast Iron Tractor Steering Wheel Ihc Farmall Hot Rat Rod 15" Steampunk Vintage Cast Iron Arcade John Deere Farmall Tractor1/16 Vintage John Deere 5020 Diesel Toy Tractor W/ Box No. 555 Ertl Jd 5020 ToyVtg Ertl Ford "8000" Toy Tractor #800 W/ Box - 1/12 ScaleVintage John Deere Tractor Porcelain Gas Motor Farm License Plate Topper SignOriginal Vintage 1950's John Deere 1/16 Scale Toy Tractor With Metal RimsVintage 1/16 Ertl Diecast Blue Ford 7710 Farm Tractor & 3 Accessories Plow WagonVintage Metal Eska Ertl? John Deere Tractor Farm Toy Restore Or PartsVintage John Deere Toy Tractor Collectible Metal Rims, Steerable, 3 Point Hitch1/16 John Deere Tractor, VintageVintage 1958 John Deere "johnny Tractor And His Pals" Children's Book D-61-58-8F4 Magneto International Harvester F4 181498 Farmall Vintage Tractor Farm Mag