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    

1952 John Deere Ar Antique Tractor No Reserve Hydraulics Lights Farmall Allis A1939 John Deere H Antique Tractor No Reserve A B G H D M Farmall Allis OliverJohn Deere 4 Bottom Antique Tractor Plow No Reserve Farmall Allis Oliver A B G H2001 John Deere 4100Allis Chalmers 190 Xt Diesel No Reserve Deere Farmall Oliver Case A B H D M G RUsed Farm Tractor Ford 5000 Runs Great.1954 Farmall Super M Vintage 1920's John Deere Farm Implements Tractor 24" Embossed Metal Sign1974 Ford 4000 Su Used1961 Farmall 560 TractorJohn Deere 4100Vintage Wooden John Deere Advertising Sign ~ Primitive Farmhouse Tractor DecorFord 3910 Series Ii Farm Utility Tractor Diesel In Mississippi No Reserve Nice 4600 Su Ford 2 Wheel Drive Diesel Tractor With Powert SteeringJohn Deere Model A TractorAllis Chalmers 7000 Tractor No Reserve Three Point Pto Deere Farmall Oliver A B Nice John Deere 2840 2wd Diesel TractorFord 3600 Diesel Tractor Power Steering 48hpJohn Deere La TractorFarmall Cub Tractor - Beautiful !Vintage Eska 400 Mccormick Farmall Tractor Very Nice 2000 Ford 2 Wheel Drive Gas Tractor With Powert Steering1951 Ih Farmall Super C Tractor - Wide Front Fenders WeightsJohn Deere H Tractor Vintage C.1940 John Deere Parts & Services Farm Tractor Embossed Metal Sign2008 John Deere 6430 Used850 John Deere Tractor1950 Ford 8n Genuine Ford Parts Oval Porcelain Sign Vintage Dealer Tractor Gas Pump Gasoline Very Nice Ford 7700 2wd Diesel Tractor John Deere Tractor Front End Loader In Box Ertl Vintage Farm Toys Jd 1/16 Ertl Precision Series John Deere 4020 Vintage Toy Tractor 237 Picker BackJohn Deere 601998 Massey Ferguson 8150 Mfwd Agco Ih Jd Ford White Oliver TractorNo Reserve Vintage John Deere Toy Diecast Die Cast Tractor 1/16 Ertl John Deere Vintage Toy Tractor Disc W/3pt2 Vintage Original John Deere Socket Sets Old Logo Tractor Tools Rare 1/4 3/82004 John Deere 7420 4x4 Cab Tractor John Deere 655 2wd Diesel Tractor Only 906 HoursJohn Deere 720 Std. TractorJohn Deere 520 Lp TractorVintage Matchbox King Size K-20 Tasker Tractor Transporter With 3 Ford TractorsFord 8n Tractor1/12 Hubley Die Cast Ford 6000 Commander Vintage Toy TractorVintage 1970's International Farmall 1466 Turbo Tractor & 3 Attachments ErtlJohn Deere 4430 TractorFord 8nFord 961 Vintage Toy Tractor With Original Plow1/16 Ertl John Deere Vintage Toy Tractor 227 Corn Picker2007 John Deere 6603 Tractor UsedInternational Farmall Antique Tractor Rear Light Red Jewel Deere Allis Oliver A Vintage Diecast Wheel Toy John Deere 3020 TractorInternational Farmall 140 TractorBosch Magneto Ignition Switch Original Vintage Tractor Truck Motorcycle Hit MissVintage1950s Ertl 60 John Deere Toy Farm TractorVintage Toy John Deere Tractor W/farm Equipment ErtlVintage John Deere Ertl 520 Pedal Tractor Cast Aluminum 1/16 Ertl John Deere Vintage Toy Tractor Die Cast And Plastic CabVintage John Deere 60 Series Farm Toy Tractor, Metal Wheels 1950's1/16 Ertl John Deere 3020 Vintage Toy Tractor Body