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Harry Ferguson

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Harry Ferguson (1884-1960) was an Irish inventor who was both a talented engineer and salesman. His invention of the three-point hitch has been described as “the single most significant advance in tractor technology, bar none.”[1]

Contents

[edit] History

[edit] Farming vs. Engineering

Henry George (Harry) Ferguson[2] was born on November 4, 1884 in Growell, Ireland.[3] Ferguson’s parents, Mary and James, had 11 children—eight boys and three girls.[4] Although he was raised on a farm, he quickly showed more interest and skill in engineering than farming, much to his father’s chagrin.[5]

He quit school at the age of 14 and began working on the family farm, but hard labor was not his trade of choice. Instead he partnered with his brother Joe, who owned an automobile and motorcycle repair shop in town. Together they established what “was described by many as the best business of its kind in Belfast.”[6]

Meanwhile, Harry Ferguson was developing a love of automobile and motorcycle racing. He began racing in 1904 at the age of 20. However, his love of speed was not limited to road vehicles. In fact, on December 31st, 1909 at Hillsborough, he became the first Irishman to build and fly his own airplane.[7] His monoplane, constructed from plans he found in a magazine, flew 130 yards (119 m).[8]

After competition over a girl, he and his brother Joe parted ways. In 1911, Harry Ferguson formed his own automobile business, which branched into tractor sales during the First World War.

[edit] Designing the Perfect Plow Hitch

Shortly thereafter, Ferguson began experimenting with plow and hitching designs. He decided he could construct a better plow than any currently available.[9] His first attempt was designed to fit on a Ford Model T tractor. However, at this point Ford was set to replace the Model T with the Model F, eliminating the market for Ferguson’s attachment. Undeterred, he began designing an attachment for the new Fordson tractor. This initial system consisted of springs and levers enabling the operator to control the attachment from the cab.

In 1919 after the war, the Irish Board of Agriculture hired Ferguson. His job was to improve the efficiency of farm tractor use in Ireland in an attempt to improve food production throughout the country.[10] Ferguson concluded the construction of plows and tractors was too complicated, crude, and heavy to be productive.[11]

At this point, he was offered employment by Henry Ford, “but he preferred his independence” and was determined to establish a plant of his own to make Ferguson plows.[12] In 1925 Ferguson established a partnership with brothers Eber and George Sherman, forming Ferguson-Sherman Inc., in the United States. The new company's first plows were affixed to tractors with a new “Duplex Hitch” system that consisted of two nearly parallel struts, which resisted the plow’s tendency to rise when met with resistance.[13] Instead, it counteracted with downforce force on the attachment, increasing traction. However, this initial system was not equipped with draft control.

Ferguson attached a third hitching point above the other two that would provide draft control. This new system became known as the three-point hitch, or simply, the “Ferguson System,” which was patented in 1926.

[edit] Interest Grows

Several companies showed interest in the “Ferguson System,” including Allis-Chalmers, Rushton, Ransomes, and Rover Car Co. Of all the companies, Morris Motor Co. interested Ferguson the most, but the agreement quickly fell through because of financial restraints created by the economic depression of the 1920s and 1930s. So, Ferguson began manufacturing his own tractor in his Belfast workshop. The prototype resembled Fordson models.

He formed a new partnership with David Brown Tractors Ltd., who had provided some parts for the prototype. Brown would manufacture the tractors and Ferguson was responsible for sales.

Two years later, Ferguson was demonstrating his new product for Henry Ford, who was impressed. They formed a “Handshake” or “Gentleman’s Agreement” in 1938, whereby Ford would manufacture Ferguson’s specially designed tractors with the three-point hitch and Ferguson would market them through his own selling organization.[14] The Ford-Ferguson models were the Ford 9N, which was manufactured from 1939 to 1942, and the Ford 2N, produced from 1942 to 1947. In total, 300,000 Ford-Ferguson tractors were manufactured.[15]

Meanwhile, Ferguson was still selling Ferguson-Sherman Inc. tractors and parts through Harry Ferguson Inc.

Henry Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford II, took over the company in 1945 and “his first task was putting the Ford operation back into the black after the ravages of war, and his attitude to the production of a tractor sold by another organization was hostile.”[16] He clearly was not pleased about his grandfather’s agreement with Ferguson and decided to end it June 30, 1947.[17]

[edit] Legal Disputes and Massey-Ferguson

In 1948 Ford released its Model 8N, which utilized Ferguson’s technology, but refused to pay him royalties. Ferguson responded with a lawsuit reportedly worth anywhere from $240 million[18] to $340 million.[19] The trial began on March 29, 1951, but eventually settled out of court to the sum of $9.25 million.[20]

Shortly after the dissolution of the agreement with Ford, Ferguson teamed with Standard Motor Car Co. to produce a new line of tractors. The new models were similar to the Ford 9N, but added a four speed gearbox, and an Overhead-valve engine. However, these new tractors suffered a number of setbacks. Standard Motor Cars was unable to build the specific attachments needed; the tractors were powered by gasoline, which at the time was being strictly rationed; and alternate fuel sources were incapable of producing the necessary amount of power to make it a productive tractor.

In 1953 the Canadian company Massey-Harris purchased Ferguson’s tractor company.[21] The company was then known as Massey-Harris-Ferguson and quickly became the number two manufacturer of agricultural equipment in the world, behind International Harvester.

Harry Ferguson was placed on the board of directors and the decision was made to market two completely separate lines of tractors: one with the Massey-Harris name and the other with Ferguson branding. Ferguson eventually left the board of directors over a tractor model dispute and retired to Stow-on-the-Wold, in Gloucestershire.[22] The “two-line policy” ended in 1958 with the agreement that the company would move forward under the name Massey-Ferguson.

[edit] Death

Sir Harry Ferguson died on October 25, 1960.[23] He had suffered from insomnia and depression and died of an apparent drug overdose.[24]

[edit] References

  1. Glastonbury, Jim. The Ultimate Guide to Tractors Pg. 12
  2. Henry George (Harry) Ferguson. Ulster History Circle, 2008-09-25.
  3. Harry Ferguson. IrelandsEye.com, 2008-09-25.
  4. Gibson, Harold. Harry Ferguson, Inventor, and Pioneer. Lisburn.com, 2008-09-25.
  5. Harry Ferguson: The Man and The Machine. Yesterday's Tractor Co., 2008-09-25.
  6. Gibson, Harold. Harry Ferguson, Inventor, and Pioneer. Lisburn.com, 2008-09-25.
  7. Harry Ferguson: The Man and The Machine. Yesterday's Tractor Co., 2008-09-25.
  8. Harry Ferguson. IrelandsEye.com, 2008-09-25.
  9. Harry Ferguson: The Man and The Machine. Yesterday's Tractor Co., 2008-09-25.
  10. Harry Ferguson: The Man and The Machine. Yesterday's Tractor Co., 2008-09-25.
  11. Harry Ferguson: The Man and The Machine. Yesterday's Tractor Co., 2008-09-25.
  12. Harry Ferguson. IrelandsEye.com, 2008-09-25.
  13. Harry Ferguson's story. Geocities.com, 2008-09-25.
  14. Harry Ferguson. IrelandsEye.com, 2008-09-25.
  15. Henry George (Harry) Ferguson. Ulster History Circle, 2008-09-25.
  16. Harry Ferguson: The Man and The Machine. Yesterday's Tractor Co., 2008-09-25.
  17. Harry Ferguson's story. Geocities.com, 2008-09-25.
  18. Harry Ferguson: The Man and The Machine. Yesterday's Tractor Co., 2008-09-25.
  19. Harry Ferguson's story. Geocities.com, 2008-09-25.
  20. Harry Ferguson: The Man and The Machine. Yesterday's Tractor Co., 2008-09-25.
  21. Massey-Harris Becomes Massey-Ferguson. Living History Farm, 2008-09-25.
  22. Harry Ferguson. IrelandsEye.com, 2008-09-25.
  23. Harry Ferguson. IrelandsEye.com, 2008-09-25.
  24. Harry Ferguson. IrelandsEye.com, 2008-09-25.