The Van Trump Report

Celebrating 100 Years of Farmall Tractors

It’s been a century now since the original Farmall tractor was first introduced by International Harvester (IH). What came to be known as the “Regular” was not only the first commercially successful row crop tractor, it forever changed the way farmers farm.

The first practical internal combustion tractor was built by Charles W. Hart and Charles H. Parr, who completed building old Hart-Parr Number 1 in 1902. They were followed by several other efforts, including the Twin City Traction Engine Company which also became successful. However, it wasn’t until around 1910, as the machines became smaller and more affordable, that the gasoline-powered machines began to catch on. Henry Ford even got into the game, introducing the Fordson, the first mass-produced tractor, in 1917. Fordson had 77% of the U.S. market by 1923.

International Harvester was obviously on the losing side of Fordson’s success. Under pressure to develop a “Fordson killer,” IH engineers began working on a true general-purpose tractor. The concept was the vision of IH engineer Bert R. Benjamin, who wanted to design a machine that could completely replace the horse. Because despite how well tractors could perform some tasks, they weren’t tall enough to drive over crops. That meant farmers still had to rely on horses for cultivating.  

By 1920, the engineers had a prototype ready that ran eleven farming implements. By comparison, the International 8-16 could only run four implements without help from horses or more people. After some stalling by IH management, the company decided to roll out the new all-purpose tractor in 1923. The engineers had selected “Farmall” as the tractor’s official name. There was no need for a model number because it was the only row crop tractor in the line-up. When the larger Farmall-30 was added later, the company began referring to the original as the “Regular.”    

Many farmers as well as IH executives thought the new tricycle-style tractors looked funny. In an effort to minimize potential embarrassment, if the design proved to be unsuccessful, the first Farmalls were initially released in Texas. However, the new tractor did its many jobs well and Texas farmers loved their Farmalls. According to some reports, some Texas farmers even wrote the company threatening to build their own Farmalls if IH didn’t produce more.

The most revolutionary thing about the Farmall was that it had enough ground clearance to cultivate row crops, finally making horseless farming possible. In 1926, Farmall sales began to take off and by 1930, IH was building 200 a day. In 1936, Farmall officially adopted “No. 50 Motor Red” as the iconic Farmall color. Before that, Farmall tractors were painted a deep blue-grey.

Although the Farmall never reached the per-year production numbers of the Fordson during the 1920s, it was the tractor that prevented the Fordson from completely owning the market. And once the Regular hit the market, virtually all other manufacturers scrambled to develop their own row crop tractor designs.

Farmall tractors continued to evolve over the decades, leading the market in many ways as well. The model MD in the early 1940s was the first commercial tractor to start on gas and run on diesel. In 1954, Farmall introduced number series tractors, which were the first to feature a torque amplifier, and the 1206 was the first two-wheel-drive row crop tractor to exceed 100 horsepower.

International Harvester began phasing out the Farmall name on tractors in the 1970s with the 06 series. Case IH brought the Farmall name back on compact tractors in 2003. As part of the 100-year celebration, Case IH will give away a Farmall 75C at the National FFA Convention and Expo coming up November 1-4 in Indianapolis. In addition to the giveaway, every Farmall built in 2023 has a special 100-year anniversary decal. Learn more at the Farmall100 website HERE. (Sources: Farmall, Lancaster Farming, Tractor Zoom, Wiki)

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