Tractor technology changed a lot
during the 1920s. Watch how the John Deere Waterloo Boy
model of 1921 transformed into the Model D in 1929.
In August, 1917, a small tent city was erected in Fremont,
Nebraska. Under the canvas, 48 tractor companies exhibited
their wares. There were over 300 tractor models on display
worth over $1.5 million. But that was only a fraction of
the tractors being offered to farmers in the 1920s. The number
of tractor manufacturer peaked in 1921 when there were 186
different firms trying to entice farmers to buy their tractors.
The next decade saw amazing changes in the technology, and
more and more farmers moving from farming with horses to
farming with tractors.
In 1919 Nebraska passed a law that required all tractors sold in the state to be tested and rated. Since 1920 the testing lab set up by the state has tested more than 1,750 tractors.
Click on the buttons below to see illustration and specifications
of tractors from 1921 and 1929.
There were good economic reasons for them to to make the
move. Horses were expensive to buy and costly to feed and
maintain. Farmers needed around five acres of land to grow
the oats, hay and fodder that each horse needed for the year.
In contrast, if a tractor didn't work, it didn't need fuel,
let alone oats and hay. Land that had been reserved for supporting
animals could now be plowed under for cash crops to help pay
for the loan it took to buy the tractor. Tractors could be
operated day and night, with little daily care, and were
not affected by hot or cold, insects or pests. Also, tractors
powered with gasoline or cheaper kerosene started up instantly,
which was a lot faster than having to heat up a boiler to
power the older steam tractors.
Many tractors still used
in the 1920s were steam-driven.
It took a farmer an hour and a half to till an acre of ground
with five horses and a gang plow. With a 27-horsepower tractor
and a moldboard plow, it took only a half-hour to plow an
acre and only 15 minutes with a 35-horsepower tractor and
a moldboard plow. Today, using a 154-horsepower tractor and
a chisel plow, a farmer can till an acre in five minutes.
In 1924 the introduction of the Farmall tractor from International
Harvester revolutionized the industry. It featured high,
rear drive wheels for maximum axle clearance and smaller, narrow
front wheels designed to run between crop rows. The proud
new owner could mount tools on both the front and the back.
With two brake levers, the farmer could lock and pivot on
either of the rear wheels, allowing the machine to turn in
a radius of only eight feet. It also had a pulley for a
belt and a new power takeoff mechanism that transferred power to
other implements, like spraying, dusting and fertilizing
equipment. All of these innovations -- as well as enclosed transmissions,
cooling systems, air cleaners, high tension magnetos, anti-friction
bearings, grease gun fittings, and force-feed engine lubrication
-- have become standard features for tractors to this day.
However, there have been big changes in the power available
to farmers in each tractor. In the 1920s, Nebraska state law
required that every tractor model sold in the state be tested
for power output and other parameters at the University of
Nebraska. In the mid-20s, the most popular models had power
ratings of between 15 and 30 horsepower. Today's tractors
top out at over 350 horsepower.
think my dad bought a John Deere D tractor along about
'24 or '25 and bought it to plow with…They raised
wheat and had to do a lot of plowing with that. He bought a
Case Model L tractor with a four cylinder [in 1928]. He
got that to pull the threshing machine with. It also could
plow and disc…The first one … run on kerosene,
but it had a little tank that had gasoline in it that
you started it with…You'd open the petcock over
the valve … and you had the flywheel on the side
and you'd turn the flywheel and then suck the gas in
and the it would fire. And when it got to firing, you'd
shut the little petcock off. And then as soon as it warmed
up a little, you'd … turn it from gasoline over to
kerosene and then as long as it was warm it would run
good on kerosene. Then the Case tractor had the crank
in front … but you just cranked it like a Ford Model
T [car]…With the horses you raised your own feed,
raised oats and alfalfa to feed them … and then you
went to tractors … you had to buy your fuel. So you'd
have to use your cropland to raise the money to buy tractor
fuel… So might be better off with just horses."
-- Kenneth Jackson (Quicktime required)