Technological Advances

During the 1930s, agricultural engineers adapted new technologies from other industries and invented many of their own.

For example, advances in steel manufacturing meant that there was stronger and cheaper steel available. Before the 30s, many implements like harrows were made primarily out of wood with steel teeth mounted in them. During the 30s, more and more implements were built completely from steel.

See a comparison between the work that horses can do plowing a field compared to succeeding generations of tractors in this interactive movie feature.

Tractor manufacturers borrowed from car and truck technology. Beginning in 1932, rubber tires began replacing the steel lugged tires that had been on tractors. Later in the decade, tractors were built with diesel engines.

Fuel technology was also getting better. Up until about 1933, gasoline was sold by gravity rather than by the power it produced. Today, consumers are used to choosing between “87, 89 or 91 octane rated gas.” But it was not until 1933 that oil companies began adding “anti-knock” chemicals to their fuels and marketing gasoline on its octane rating. The additives brought the octane ratings up from about 50 or 60 to a 70 octane gas. Tractor manufacturers brought out models specifically designed to use the new, more powerful fuels.

Yet, despite new technologies, farmers relied on tried and true technologies, as well. For instance, new tractors would plow up to fence rows that were often made from native osage orange tree limbs. Former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser (left) says the trees are a gift from the Great Plains to the world. In his poem, “Osage,” Ted says, “Imagine a wood that’s really as tough as nails…”

Written by Bill Ganzel of the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.