History of the Massey Ferguson Farm Tractors

Massey Harris tractors, Ferguson tractors, and Massey Ferguson tractors

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The Massey Ferguson tractors that eventually became the largest tractor company in the world arose out of the merger of three agricultural companies over the course of several decades: Massey, Harris, and Ferguson. The combined company would do battle with Ford for many years over dominance of the farm tractors industry, eventually outpacing Ford in terms of sales. This would have been difficult to imagine for people familiar with the company's start in this industry, since the first Massey Ferguson tractors were complete market failures. But despite repeated difficulty, the company persevered and eventually won out against a Ford Motor Company that shifted away from tractors after the 1960's, allowing Massey Ferguson farm tractors to dominate the market. But for a long time, the war between the two companies caused deep divisions in rural areas, and it took the intervention of Harry Ferguson to tip the balance of sales in favor of Massey. Read on to see just how the Massey Ferguson farm tractors became the dominant farm machines throughout the world.

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History of the Massey Ferguson Tractors

Return to History of Farm Tractors
Although the Massey Harris company had a long history of developing agricultural equipment, the emerging industry for farm tractors in the early 1900's presented a different kind of challenge in terms of product development. Because of the enormous costs that would have to be incurred in developing a new tractor design from within the company, the decision was made to import tractors from an outside company in the early years. Pictured here is the first tractor imported for the Canadian market by Massey-Harris, the Big Bull tractor manufactured by the Bull Tractor Company of Minneapolis.

The Massey Ferguson company was formed over the course of 150 years and involved a number of mergers and acquisitions along the way. After a long period of development, Massey Ferguson now stands as one of the largest agricultural equipment manufacturers in the world.

Daniel Massey established his business in 1847 with a small shop to do repairs and make implements for local farmers. Alanson Harris started his farm machinery company in 1857. Producing harvesting equipment such as mowers and reapers, both Canadian companies developed a strong reputation throughout the world for their quality implements. They developed a robust export business based on their strong results at international shows comparing farm machinery from around the world. In 1891 the decision was made to merge the two companies, and this, together with a string of acquisitions of manufacturers of a variety of implements, created a large and international farm equipment company.

Even as their product line of implements expanded, Massey-Harris was slow to embrace the developing industry for powered farm equipment. Despite the fact that the tractor industry was growing greatly in size, no plans were made at the company to develop any tractors to complement their line of agricultural products. The Deyo-Macey company, producing gasoline engines, was purchased in 1910. This was the first step towards entering the power farming business, but no development of any tractor design was begun. It would take a war to spur interest in that market.

The outbreak of World War I helped usher in a revolution in the use of machinery. Never before had armies so vast fought each other with weaponry so sophisticated on the battlefield, and the logistics of feeding the soldiers and the domestic population presented a difficult strain on a world of farming dependent on horses. So many who would ordinarily be working on the farm were now at war, and they still had to be fed. The only answer to the problem of the food crisis throughout the world was to increase production by making the industry more efficient. Farm tractors were needed to accomplish this. The Massey-Harris company was finally forced to come to this realization in 1917, and efforts were made to find a tractor that could be imported for sale in the Canadian market. The company was long established as the largest agricultural supplier in Canada, and was unwilling to risk that position by failing to offer these badly needed powered farm machines.

The tractor that they chose for their first model to sell would be the Bull Tractor Company's Big Bull, a 25 H.P. tractor that had already established itself as a fairly popular model in America and also in England, where it was sold as the Whiting-Bull. The new model was based on the Bull Tractor company's popular Little Bull, and the Big Bull would have been a popular tractor as well were it not plagued by supply difficulties. The final blow to the deal came with the release in 1917 of the Fordson Model F, a tractor which was revolutionary and a good deal less expensive than the Big Bull. The Massey-Harris import agreement with the Bull Tractor company ended in a miserable failure, and the company was forced to find another way to enter the tractor market.

Bull Tractor Co. Big Bull (a.k.a. Whiting-Bull in England)
25 H.P. horizontally opposed two cylinder engine
delivered 10 H.P. at the drawbar
Featured a three wheel design
Briefly imported by Massey-Harris during 1917
Produced from 1915-1920 at Minneapolis

Meanwhile, in Belfast, Ireland, after starting out working with his brother in a repair garage, and establishing his own garage, the war presented opportunities for Harry Ferguson. His interest in mechanical things and the pressing need to increase farm output in the wake of U-boat attacks on British shipping, led him to begin selling farm tractors. He started selling the Waterloo Boy Model N, known in England as the Overtime. He later accepted a job with the Irish Board of Agriculture to instruct farmers in ways to better use their tractors. It was during his time visiting the countryside and observing the workings of the tractors that Ferguson began to develop the ideas that would later revolutionize the farm machinery market in the form of the Ferguson System.

Ferguson then began developing implements for Model T's that had been converted into farm tractors, and later for the widely popular Fordson Model F. Ferguson started work on the three point hitch which would be the cornerstone of his System, and then designed a new tractor and a new set of implements to take advantage of its features. He built this prototype tractor to demonstrate his technology to prospective manufacturers, which was painted a dark black and is known as the Black Tractor.

Ferguson's Black Tractor
Built to demonstrate the benefits of the Ferguson System

Back in Canada, Massey-Harris was ready to try again to enter the farm tractor market. They would fare a little better in their second attempt to establish themselves in the rapidly growing industry. They still wanted to come to an arrangement with an established tractor company rather than go through the time and expense of developing designs in-house, and the new company chosen for the job was the Parrett Tractor Company of Chicago. An agreement was reached in 1918 by which Massey-Harris would produce the tractors themselves and market them under their own name for the Canadian and some export markets. Production was started in 1919 at the Massey-Harris engine production factory at Weston, Toronto. Three models were developed based on the Parrett design and marketed by Massey-Harris as the MH 1, 2, and 3. Production of the Parrett designs would end in 1923 after sales declined sharply and the Parrett company itself went out of business in 1922. The design was no longer competitive in the industry.

Massey-Harris 1 (a.k.a. Parrett 12-25 in America)
25 H.P. maximum Buda four cylinder engine
Featured characteristically large front wheels
Produced from 1919 until replaced by the MH 2

Massey-Harris 2
Identical to MH 1 except with minor changes in gear ratios and lubrication system
Produced until release of MH 3

Massey-Harris 3
Increased cylinder bore and stroke to deliver 28 H.P.
delivered 15 H.P. on the drawbar
Production ended in 1923 due to weak sales

This second failure to enter the tractor market caused concern among many within Massey-Harris, and no immediate plans to reenter the business were made. The economic recession in the agricultural industry following the war also led them to delay entering a business in which their position was weak and their potential for losses quite large. The rest of the Massey-Harris farming equipment product line was still very strong, and was growing even larger. But the lost sales by not having a position in the quickly growing tractor business soon led to renewed support for establishing a tractor division.

The upswing in the economy and the continuing expansion of the tractor industry caused the company to begin looking for yet another partner to work with in establishing themselves in the field. Negotiations began between Massey-Harris and the J.I. Case Plow Works Company of Racine, Wisconsin in 1926. It was one of two businesses that had been founded by Jerome Increase Case, an early success in the farm equipment business. The other was the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company, which also was producing tractors under the Case name. The negotiations eventually led to the acquisition of J.I. Case Plow Works by Massey-Harris in 1927 for $1.3 million and the assumption of $1.1 million in outstanding debts. The rights to the Case name that had been held by Plow Works were sold back to the Threshing Machine Company for $700,000, making it a very good deal for Massey-Harris. For a relatively small investment they gained a foothold in the important American market and a design that was popular and well-known among farmers. Also helping the Massey-Harris company in their latest effort to establsih themselves in tractors was the decline in fortunes of the Ford Motor Company's tractor division. The Fordson no longer dominated the market, and indeed, all Ford American tractor production was ended in 1928. This development gave Massey-Harris just the opening they needed.

The machine that MH had paid for was the Wallis family of tractors. These tractors were known both for their excellent fuel efficiency and their distinctive U-frame construction, which used a U-shaped steel frame to protect the underside of the tractor. The Wallis 20-30 was the latest in the series, and soon was produced and distributed by Massey-Harris as the MH 20-30. In addition to its fuel efficiency, the 20-30 offered a very efficient transfer of power from the engine to the drawbar, so that with an engine capable of around 35 H.P., about 27 H.P. was available at the drawbar according to University of Nebraska tests. This performance was greatly superior to many of the other tractors of its class at this time, including the Fordson Model N. Massey-Harris was now established as a market leader.

Massey-Harris 20-30 (a.k.a. Wallis 20-30, Certified 20-30)
Overhead valve 1050 rpm, 35 H.P. maximum four cylinder engine
delivered 27 H.P. at the drawbar
Gearbox offered only two forward speeds
Featured distinctive U-Frame construction
Optional power takeoff
Produced by Massey-Harris from 1927-1930

Given the size of the market for small tractors, a modified version of the popular 20-30 was developed by Massey-Harris to provide an offering in this range. The MH 12-20 was essentially the same tractor as the 20-30 but with a smaller engine.
Massey-Harris 12-20 (a.k.a. Wallis 12-20, Certified 12-20)
24.16 H.P. four cylinder engine
delivered 18.07 H.P. at the drawbar
All other specifications similar to 20-30
Produced from 1929-1930

Meanwhile, development efforts at Massey-Harris focused on designing a tractor within the company for the first time were undertaken. This would be the first tractor that was not based on a design purchased from another company. In 1930, Massey-Harris announced the General Purpose model, which was very advanced and offered features that other tractors would not match for another two decades. The problem, however, was that the market was not ready for such a design, and farmers did not appreciate the advantages offered by the General Purpose. This, combined with the outbreak of the Great Depression, doomed the General Purpose and the project was a failure. The first tractor wholly designed by Massey-Harris within the company had been unsuccessful.

The major feature of the General Purpose was the use of four wheel drive through equal-size wheels, providing a greater level of pulling power and superior traction.

Massey-Harris General Purpose
24.8 H.P. 1200 rpm, 226 cu. in. Hercules engine
delivered 19.9 H.P. at the drawbar
Four wheel drive through equal size wheels
Transmission offered three forward speeds
Optional power takeoff
Produced from 1930-1936

The Wallis 20-30 had been very successful for Massey Harris, and the decision was made to upgrade the machine with the release of the MH 25. The Massey-Harris 25 featured more power gained by increasing the engine speed to 1200 rpm, and also offered three forward speeds, an improved feature from the 20-30.

Massey-Harris 25
40 H.P. maximum, 1200 rpm 4 cylinder engine similar to MH 20-30
Improved vaporizer and combustion chamber
Gearbox offered three forward speeds
Produced from 1931-1938

The MH 12-20 had not proven to be as successful as the larger 20-30 and the MH 25, but there still was a very large market for small tractors that Massey-Harris was determined to exploit. In 1936, they released two tractors based on the earlier model for the small agricultural equipment market. The Pacemaker and the Challenger shared most of the same systems but the Challenger was a rowcrop style machine, the first one that Massey-Harris had ever released. The new tractors also featured a four speed gearbox, a welcome modification from the 12-20.

Massey-Harris Pacemaker
27 H.P. 4 cylinder engine
delivered 17 H.P. at the drawbar
Massey-Harris Challenger
Identical to Pacemaker except with a rowcrop design
Produced from 1936-1938 until redesigned

Ferguson, meanwhile, finally convinced David Brown to work with him in producing a tractor that would use his system of implement attachment and control. Establishing a new company in Huddersfield in Britain to produce the machines, the new tractor was based on the original Black Tractor and was called the Ferguson-Brown A, or sometimes just the Ferguson A. Launched in 1936, the machine was produced by the David Brown company and marketed by Ferguson. But the England in which these machines were being sold was a market long dominated by Ford and the Fordson and still in the grips of the Depression, so sales were less than spectacular. The prospect of having to pay more for the Ferguson tractor and then to have to buy all new implements to use on the machines was not very appealing to many established farmers, further hurting sales. When David Brown wanted to make changes to the design to try and improve sales which Ferguson opposed, the two companies began to drift apart.

Ferguson-Brown A (a.k.a. Ferguson A)
20 H.P. 4 cylinder engine
Based on the original Ferguson Black Tractor
Used the Ferguson System of implement attachment and control
Featured three gears
Produced from 1936-1938

In 1938, just two years after the production of the first Ferguson tractors had started, the deal fell through as Brown went ahead with his changes over Ferguson's objection and Ferguson went to Dearborn to visit with Henry Ford. Armed with one of the machines he was building with Brown in England, the two came to their handshake agreement by which Ford would produce a tractor using the Ferguson System and Ferguson, once again, would market the machines. In 1939, after a hastened piece of development work, the first Ford tractor using the new implement system was launched as the Ford 9N.

Massey-Harris, meanwhile, again updated the disappointing General Purpose in an effort to improve the sales of the machine. Now available with kerosene as an option, with an improved vaporizer and an optional industrial model, the General Purpose was renamed the Four-Wheel Drive, an obvious marketing attempt to focus attention on the tractor's most unique feature. Still, 1936 was not a good year for farmers, or the economy as a whole, and the market at the time did not fully understand the advantages of four wheel drive. The new tractor would be discontinued almost as soon as it was released due to poor sales.

Two years after the release of the Pacemaker and Challenger, Massey-Harris decided to go with a new look. Featuring more rounded curves, the Pacemaker was renamed the Streamlined Pacemaker. Kerosene was also offered as an option in addition to gasoline on the new models. The power of both tractors was also substantially increased, and a new Twin Power feature on the gasoline engine allowed for a special high power mode that could be used for belt work. These machines offered 37 H.P. and 26 H.P. on the belt. The Pacemaker now had an orchard version as well. These machines would be produced during 1938, until the whole Massey-Harris line would be completely revamped with machines that were actually designed in-house. Massey-Harris was again attempting to market their own designs for the first time since the General Purpose debacle.

The first model released by Massey-Harris, and the one that would be largely responsible for carrying the tractor division through the Second World War, was the MH 101. Available in normal, Senior, Junior, and Super varieties, the most distinctive feature of this model was the large six cylinder truck engine from Chrysler. A variety of other models based on the 101, with different options and feature sets, were also released during the late 1930's and early 1940's. The MH 102, 201, 202, and 203 were all 101 derivatives marketed through the war.

Massey-Harris 101 / 102 / 201 / 202 / 203
MH 101 and MH 102 available in standard, super, senior, and junior versions
Six cylinder engines available on many models, including a Chrysler 6 cylinder on 101
Twin Power was an option for these machines
MH 101 Produced from 1938-1946
MH 102 Produced from 1939-1946
MH 201 Produced in 1940, MH 202 in 1941
MH 203 Produced from 1940-1947

The lower end of the farm equipment market would not be ignored in the new line, either. Replacing the Pacemaker and Challenger in this capacity were the MH 81 and MH 82, which, much like with the MH 101, were very similar in design and varied in some of the features and options. And to target the even smaller tractor market, Massey-Harris signed an agreement to distribute the General, a small tractor manufactured by the Cleveland Tractor Company. The General was to be sold by Massey-Harris dealers in select areas. The deal ended in failure not long after it was made, however, and the little General would not turn out to be very successful for Massey-Harris. But they would return to the low-end market in the post-war years.

Massey-Harris 81 / 82
Designed as smaller versions of the popular MH 101
MH 81 Produced from 1941-1948
MH 82 Produced from 1941-1946

The General
17 H.P. Hercules engine
Produced by the Cleveland Tractor Company
Distributed by Massey-Harris in some areas from 1939-1941

As with the other tractor and manufacturing companies, the outbreak of war prevented new designs from being developed as all effort was focused on manufacturing enough existing equipment to meet the demand of a war-mobilized economy. But at the end of the war, Massey-Harris came out with a series of new designs. From this point until the merger with Ferguson in 1953, a wide range of models covering all the major segments was introduced, ranging from the 10.3 H.P. Pony through the much more substantial 52 H.P. MH 55. The most popular by far of the new models was the mid-range MH 44, which was the market which Massey-Harris had the greatest strength in. Making up the new line would be the Pony, MH 20, MH 22, MH 30, MH 44, and MH 55, which was offered in a variety of configurations, with the model numbers suggesting the relative power of the machine. The MH 744 was the name under which the MH 44 was produced and marketed in Europe. The MH 21, 23, and the limited run I-162 were released to revise the line in the early 1950's.

The low end of the Massey Harris line was seriously hurt by the Ferguson System-equipped tractors that Ford, and later Ferguson himself was producing and marketing. It was clear that the system was better than anything the company could offer, and efforts were made to develop a technology to respond to this threat. The Depth-O-Matic and other attempts to bridge this gap were unsuccessful, however. It is fortunate for Massey-Harris that Ferguson was looking to sell his tractor business, together with his patents and technology, or sales would surely have continued to suffer.

Massey Harris Pony, 20, 22, 30, 44 / 744, 55, 21, 23, I-162
Featured a variety of Massey-Harris designed engines
Diesel engines available on some through the Perkins P6 engine
Massey-Harris 44 was the best-selling tractor of the new line
Model numbers suggest the relative power of each tractor
MH 20 Produced from 1946-1948, MH 22 Produced from 1948-1952
MH 30 Produced from 1946-1955, MH 44 Produced from 1946-1954
MH 55 Produced from 1946-1954, MH 21 Produced from 1952-1953
MH 23 Produced from 1952-1956, MH I-162 Produced in 1953

Back at Dearborn, all was not well in the relationship between Ford and Ferguson. Ferguson was angry that Ford's British division continued to refuse to produce a model with the Ferguson System, and to address this situation he made plans to develop his own tractor to compete against Ford in England. In 1946, Ferguson, working with Standard Motor, launched the TE-20 to directly compete with the redesigned Fordson E27N Major. The strengths of the Ferguson System had already been demonstrated with the 9N and revised 2N in America, and sales of the TE-20 were very successful, eventually displacing Ford in the top position in that market that had long been under their domination.

Ferguson TE-20 / TO-20 / TO-30
20 H.P. 4 cylinder engine
TO-30 offered 30 H.P. power
Offered four speeds
TO nearly identical to TE
TE models produced in Europe, TO in America
TE-20 Produced from 1946-1954 in Coventry, Britain
TO-20 Produced from 1948-1954 in Detroit
TO-30 Produced from 1951-1954 in Detroit

When Ford broke with Ferguson in America following the death of Henry Ford, launching the 8N independently, Ferguson filed a lawsuit that would drag out for years. The issues revolved around the former handshake agreement and existing Ferguson patents being violated by the new 8N. Meanwhile, Ferguson had a large distribution company in America, and to keep it afloat he imported his TE-20 tractors for sale through the distributors, and made plans to produce tractors for the American market. These would be referenced as TO machines, whereas his European designs were TE. Launching the TO-20, based entirely on the TE-20 in 1948, the tractors soon gained considerable success and together with the TO-30, launched in 1951, which offered 30 H.P., were very successful in gaining market share against Ford.

But Ferguson was getting older at this point, and he had never liked dealing with the details of production, instead preferring the engineering and marketing aspects of the business. He looked for a company that could produce his tractors and carry his name into the future, and that company was Massey-Harris. In 1953, in a deal worth $16 million, Massey-Harris acquired the Ferguson company and renamed themselves Massey-Harris-Ferguson, which was shortened to Massey-Ferguson. A new titan in the agricultural equipment market had been formed.

The merger of two large companies always presents problems, and these problems were evident in the new Massey Ferguson. Both companies had large dealer networks and a wide product range, as well as individual engineering divisions that made a smooth transition difficult. It took a few years before the product line could be unified and organization could be imposed. In the meantime, both brand names lived on, and the TO 30 was updated with the more powerful TO-35 in 1955 and also released as the MH 50. 1956 saw the 33, 44, and 55 updated and cleverly renamed the 333, 444, and 555. The Ferguson F40 was offered as a tricycle tractor for the Ferguson lineup.

Starting in 1957, and completed by 1958, new models used the Massey Ferguson tractors name in place of Ferguson and Massey-Harris. The MF 25, MF 35, MF 65, and MF 85 were rolled out in the late 1950's. From this point on a wide range of models, with their numbers suggesting their relative power and placement in the product line were launched, with a variety of MF 90's offered for the large farm equipment market. The company grew substantially in size and offered models for all the different markets, eventually becoming the largest tractor company. In 1993, Massey-Ferguson, (which had changed its corporate name) was acquired by AGCO, ending the independence of the company. The Massey Ferguson name, and Massey Ferguson farm tractors, will no doubt live on for a long time in the products of the new company and continue to provide the modern tractors needed in a more technology-savvy and efficient American farmland.

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