In the early days of tractor development, there were literally hundreds of small manufacturers. In 1910, there were eight large tractor companies, but the category “All Others” accounted for 28 percent of the market. IH had 21 percent and Ford had 20 percent.
Ten years later, the big eight – IH, Ford, Massey-Harris, John Deere, Case, Allis Chalmers, Oliver and Minneapolis Moline – had reduced the other companies to less than 10 percent of the market.
In the 1950s and 60s, the trend toward consolidation continued – even among the big eight.
- Oliver becomes White. The first of the big eight to succumb was the Oliver Farm Equipment – which itself had been formed in the 1929 merger of Oliver Chilled Plow, Hart-Parr, Nichols and Shepard, and the American Seeding Machine Companies. Oliver entered the decade offering the “Fleetline Models 66, 77, 88 and 99.” By one estimate, they commanded 5.4 percent of the U.S. tractor market. Later in the decade, these models were super-sized. The Super 44 was the smallest with around 25 HP. But in 1960, the company became a take-over target, and the heavy truck maker White Motor Corporation acquired Oliver – overnight becoming a player in the tractor and implement business.
- Minneapolis-Moline goes White. Minneapolis-Moline had also come about in a merger of three Twin Cities companies in 1929. The merged company designed a line of “Visionlined” – that is, styled tractors in bright yellow paint – that sold from 1936 into the 50s. The line included the “R” at 27 HP in later years, the “Z” at 37 HP, the “U” at 50 HP, and the “G” at 75 HP. In 1951, the company bought the Avery tractor company and brought out the “V,” “BF,” and “BG.” In 1956, they brought out the “Powerline” series, followed in 1959 with the “Constellation Series” tractors that had names like “Jet Star” and “Four Star.” That same year, the “G” series came out with six-cylinder engines.
Then, in 1964, White Motor Corporation added M-M to its acquisition of Oliver and the British tractor-maker Cockshutt. All three brands continued, but it was the same tractor under different paint and logo schemes. For example, the top of the line was the “M-M G-940” with around 90 HP – which was the same tractor as the “Oliver 1855,” which was the same tractor as the “Cockshutt 1855.”
- White Tractor Company. Finally, in 1969, White stopped the practice of marketing the same tractors under three different brands and reorganized into the White brand. In the 1980s, White was acquired, merged again, and again by the ag machinery monster AGCO of Georgia.
- Lamborghini. After World War II, a mechanic in the Italian Army named Ferruccio Lamborghini started buying up surplus military vehicles and converting them into agricultural machines. He sold enough to build his own tractor factory in 1949, but even then, he and a handful of employees were building a single tractor a day. By 1958, the tractor company was building 1,500 per year and had the first fully diesel four-wheel drive and a crawler tractor in its lineup. Legend has it that Ferruccio was talking with his neighbor Enzo Ferrari and complained about the noisy gearbox in his Ferrari car. As the story goes, Ferrari told Lamborghini to stick to building tractors and leave the sports cars to Ferrari. Lamborghini didn’t like that idea and designed his own sports car. The legendary sports cars debuted 1963 and continue to be some of the most expensive and sought after models on the road. In 1973, Lamborghini sold his tractor business to a company known as the Same Company, they continued to build tractors while Ferruccio retired to make wine in Umbria. He died in 1993 at the age of 77.
- Steiger Company. In the late 1950s, two brothers decided they needed more power than current tractors were offering – a whole lot more power. In a dairy barn in western Minnesota over the winter of 1957-58, they built a huge lime green machine out of truck parts. It delivered 238 HP to all four wheels at a time when common tractors had around 50-60 HP in two-wheel drive machines. Their neighbors wanted to buy machines like it, so the brothers eventually opened a manufacturing plant in Fargo, North Dakota. The largest of their machines reached 525 HP driving up to 12 tires mounted on the four axels.
Written by Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First published in 2007. A partial bibliography of sources is here.