The aim of the current research paper is to provide evidence of the significant impact of tractors on different aspects of agriculture. For this purpose, the development of tractor industry has been studied in the historical sequence. The consequences of tractors’ implementation into agriculture are described from technological, social and economical points of view. The conclusion of the current research is made in the light of the above-mentioned issues. The aim of the current research paper is achieved by means of a combination of the publicly available sources.

The Significance of Tractors for Agriculture

The tractors’ implementation into all stages of farming works looks natural for the modern farmers and laborers. The general mechanization of agriculture has reached the stage where manual work is minimized as much as possible. Tractors of different sizes and systems became an integral attribute both for field processing and for livestock farming. However, about a hundred years ago farmers’ attitude to first primitive tractors was rather suspicious. The traditional farming methods with draft animals and a huge amount of manual jobs prevailed at the beginning of the twentieth century. The “ancient” agricultural technology required a significant number of laborers engaged in the process even on a small family farm. The productivity and efficiency of that agricultural activity were insufficient for growing consuming demands. The tractors have managed to provide the intensification of agricultural technologies that allowed the contemporary world to escape food deficiency. To estimate the influence on and contribution of tractors to the modern agriculture, the following subjects should be considered: the general definition of tractor and progress of engines; the main manufacturers of the 1850-1930s; the feasibility of the first tractors; the most important innovations of tractors before the 1960s; tractor implements and their progress; the peculiarities of tractor industry development in 1920-60s; the most important features of modern tractors.
Imposing a significant part of labor on industrial manufacturing, tractors’ implementation made a contribution into the technical progress of the twentieth century. Safety and efficient farming along with low cost and fair number of agricultural products became the obvious results of tractors’ input into agriculture.

The General Definition of Tractor and Progress of Engines

A tractor is a multipurpose vehicle widely used in agriculture. Tractors are one of the products of the nineteenth century industrial revolution that have led to the critical transformation of farming. Despite the engine systems applied, tractors raised farming to the industrial level. Steam engine tractors that were popular in the 1870s provided greater abilities of tillage in comparison with draft animals. Tractors with inner combustion engines started being used in agriculture at the beginning of the 1900s, providing a variety of functions that allowed refusing from manual labor. Since that time, tractors are considered the main agricultural machines that have assumed almost all farming works capable of mechanization. The possibility of hundreds of hectares processing became possible only after implementation of tractors to farming. Development of tractors’ industry attracted a huge army of employees to production and service releasing them from manual farming labor. The term tractor came from Latin “trahere” that means, “to pull”. The common meaning of the tractor defines a vehicle specifically designed to deliver a torque force providing a forward slow-speed motion. The power of its engine can also be transmitted to different attached implements via a power take-off shaft. An electric generator powered by the engine supplies the machine with the energy for ignition of the motor, lighting and other electric equipment. Modern multifunctional tractors are equipped with a number of facilities including GPS navigation and air conditioning that allows tractor drivers to work comfortably.

The Main Manufacturers of the 1850-1930s

The history of tractors began in 1839, when William Tuxford in Boston produced steam engine tractors with a belt-and-pulley transmission. It was equipped with locomotive-type smoke tube boiler. The steam engine transmitted motion by a long leather belt. John Fowler made his apparatus public in the 1850s. It was equipped with Clayton & Shuttleworth steam engine for towage and cultivation (“The McCormick tractor story: How the brand is back on tractors,” n.d.). Steam-powered tractors were huge and heavy, and were characterized with significant horsepower capacity. Due to their weight and steel wheels, they often mired in the mud. Besides, the complexity of operation and explosion risk made them not very convenient for farmers. However, steam engines remained popular for agricultural use in the following 60 years until more reliable inner combustion engines appeared in industrial manufacturing. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the stationary gasoline engines were commercialized. Many farmers were familiar with stationary gasoline engines and used them for different agricultural purposes. It made gasoline-powered tractors the real alternative to steam-powered tractors along with horses. In contrast to steam-powered vehicles, gasoline engine tractors were smaller and lighter. They were able to work the whole day on a single fuel tank. Besides, their operation was much simpler and safer. In 1902, two American engineers, Charles Parr and Charles Hart started a tractor business in Iowa developing two-cylinder gasoline engines. A year later, they produced 15 tractors of 30 horsepower engine capacity. The biggest tractor manufacturer in Britain, the Saunderson Tractor and Implement Co invented four-wheel design in 1908. Ford introduced the first mass-produced tractor Fordson with gasoline engine in 1917. It was very successful due to its size and excellent plowing. Later it started being produced in the U.S., Russia and England. The price of Fordson was about 1000 dollars. After World War I, Henry Ford initiated a policy of price-cutting. Over time, the price of Fordson went down to 395 dollars. It occupied up to 77% of the U.S. market in 1923.

The Feasibility of the First Tractors

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The feasibility of tractors was not so clear for farmers at the beginning of the twentieth century as it could appear at the first sight. The traditional lifestyle pattern of farmers influenced their opinion regarding the mechanization. At that time, tractors’ price was unaffordable for many farmers while draft animals were prevailing.

The review of the U.S. Department of Agriculture of 1916 gives an illustrative example of studies held among farmers about their opinion of tractors’ feasibility:

The ability of the tractor to do the heavy work and to do it quickly, thus covering the desired acreage within the proper season, was considered the principle advantage. The saving of the man-labor and the doing away with hired help was placed next. The ability to plow to a good depth, especially in hot weather, was placed third, while economy of operation, the displacement of horses, and the ability to use the tractor day and night were not mentioned by very many owners, although they are usually considered, theoretically to be decided advantages. (Yerkes & Church, 1916)

Rather obvious things for modern farmers were disputable at that time because of the limited technical abilities of first tractors. As their initial spheres of application included towage and plowing at most, a lot of manual labor remained in demand. However, technical progress went on, and tractors functionality was growing.

The Most Important Innovations of Tractors before the 1960s

Such important tractor’s innovation as power take-off was offered by the International Harvester in 1922. The invention was very significant as it is widely recognized the second by importance for tractors after inner combustion engine’s implementation. The power take-off shaft transmits rotation power directly from the tractor’s motor with different implements used in farming. Power take-off (PTO) remains a standard feature of all tractors even at the present time. The improvements of the implements took place along with modifications of tractors. The main competitors in this sector, such as International Harvester, Deer, Case and Massey-Harris, had come up with a similar design of so-called general-purpose (GP) tractor by the mid-1930s. It was a model with big rear and small front wheels, designed not only for plowing, but also for cultivating and other operations. At that time, all tractors were equipped with steel wheels. They were quite effective for field traction. However, on-road movement of steel wheels left much to be desired. At the beginning of the 1930s, some farmers engaged in orange growing in Florida began to experiment with rubber tires because steel wheels damaged roots of the orange trees. B. F. Goodrich Company invented rubber tires put on common steel tractor wheels. In 1933, almost all big competitors on the tractor market offered their tractors with rubber tires.

Tractor Implements and Their Progress

One more important invention for tractors was patented in 1926. Harry Ferguson offered hydraulic hitch for implements, which became a very popular attachment system soon. The other design and technological improvements of tractors in the 1930s include hydraulic lift, diesel fuel and high clearance. All the features were applied by the main tractor manufacturers. So-called “dominant design” of a tractor for general purposes was developed during that period. The differences concerned only the size and horsepower capacity. The design was simple, effective and multipurpose that made it prevailing in the next 30 years. Thus, the general-purpose tractors had almost shifted out draft animals from farming by the 1940s. Along with improvements in tractor design, the manufacturers provided inventions in different attachment equipment. A tractor became a universal vehicle capable to carry out not only soil preparation work, but also execute the operations that were traditionally manual. Although first harvesters appeared in the 1880s, the actual mechanization of harvesting became possible together with the introduction of tractors. In the nineteenth century, the term combine applied to horse-powered cumbersome structures, which facilitated reaping and threshing of the corps. Those machines were rather heavy, requiring a number of horses to move on the field. Due to their complexity, they had limited acceptance. Tractor manufacturers along with producers of attached implements have redesigned combines to make them applicable along with tractors. Self-moving combines with tractor engines appeared after a while. Along with harvesting combines, corn and cotton pickers have been invented before World War II. Combines and pickers should be indicated as a separate class of equipment. However, they had no chance for their development with horses or steam power. Only gasoline engine tractors development pushed combines onto a higher technical level.

The Peculiarities of Tractor Industry Development in 1920-60s

Embracing the history of tractors, first 50 years of the twentieth century should be considered the most important period in terms of tractors’ development. The inventions in agricultural mechanization started back in the nineteenth century, when steel became more accessible for farmers. Steel plow increased the efficiency of tillage. However, horse-powered implements could not significantly increase labor productivity. Steam-powered apparatuses were too heavy and complicated to be used for moving on fields. They were acceptable mostly for stationary application. Only gasoline engines made tractors capable to remove draft animals from farming. Even the first primitive tractors provided significant increase of efficiency and growing of crop yield. The situation with the size of farming fields processed by one farmer has changed dramatically. The number of workers on a farm decreased as the area of the farm increased. Population structure was changed to urban life during the first decades of the twentieth century. The impact of tractors on that process was critical.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture described the situation in their report of 1924 as following:

Although the use of a tractor may increase the yield by making it possible to better tillage practice and more timely work, and may reduce the amount of time which its owner must actually spend at farm work, it is obvious that one will not often prove profitable unless the owner does at least one of the following: (1) increases the size of his farm; (2) reduce the number of his work stock; (3) reduce the amount of paid labor used. (Tolley & Humphries, 1924)

The development of tractor market was not homogeneous during the first decades of the twentieth century. Such social events as the Great Depression in the 1920-30s influenced tractors’ output. Farmers were trying not to buy expensive facilities. In the beginning of the 1930s, the production of tractors decreased from 200,000 machines to 20,000. The number of tractor manufacturers dropped down from about a hundred companies in 1920 to nine main manufacturers in 1933. The World War II interrupted the growth of the tractor industry to some extent. Many tractor factories were transformed into military manufacturers producing tanks and vehicles for military purposes. Besides, the government imposed regulations on raw materials consumption. Steel, rubber and copper were in a great demand across the army. The peak of tractors expansion in agriculture falls to the 1950s. Dominating manufacturers such as Ford, International Harvester and Deer had been occupying the lion’s share of the tractors market by 1955. The other manufacturers had less than 10% of the market. The first period of tractors development is characterized with both technological innovations and growth in volumes. As the general dominating design of a tractor came to a standard position in the 1930s, the general development addressed mostly the number of tractors per head. However, after the peak of tractor production in the 1950s, the main changes of the tractors development concerned the technological improvement from the 1960s up to the present time. Besides, the enhancement of farming productivity made changes in social and economic spheres of agriculture. Many former farm laborers left for the cities after the Second World War (White, 2008).

The Most Important Features of Modern Tractors

Intensification of agricultural technologies and methods required quality changes of tractors. The inventions in tractor manufacturing of the second part of the twentieth century include new facilities and improvements that provide the general direction of the development trend. Not only tractor parts were developed, but also some relative products were changed. The fuel is considered one of the most important things for inner combustion motors. Diesel fuel became popular in the 1960s. Before that period, there was applied mostly the low-octane gasoline. However, gasoline octane rating was increasing gradually from 50 up to 70. Several different types of fuel are used for tractors as well. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is popular in the car market. There should be a special fuel vessel under pressure for LPG on a vehicle. Mostly, gasoline motors are re-equipped for LPG consumption. That is why LPG is not too often used for tractors. Biodiesel is a more popular alternative fuel for tractors. Biodiesel is produced from organic oils of soybean or sunflower. Standard diesel engines do not require modifications to consume biodiesel. However, biodiesel is widely used in the areas where it is produced from local raw materials. Tractor transmission has evolved from a primitive belt type to continuously variable transmissions with synchronization. Modern tractor transmission prevents them from damages while towing heavy loads as well as from losing of the driver’s control. Levers and switches remain important for the operation of tractors.

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Before the 1960s, only one gear lever was used for the transmission shift. Later, gears were collected in groups and the second lever appeared. Modern tractors are equipped with electric switches or even computer-controlled ones to shift gears. The hydraulic system is important for tractors because of a large variety of attached implements that are driven by hydraulics. Such towed mechanical implements as balers, mowers or windrowers require power to be moved by a tractor by means of mechanical or hydraulic systems. For this purpose, modern tractors use hydraulic systems or power take-off shafts while in the past leather belts were used. Modern tractors are equipped with a set of pedals different from cars and trucks. For example, two separate pedals dedicated to two separate brakes. Such system allows stopping the rear wheels separately for the better drive or a sharp turn. Due to its big rear wheels, tractors are considered rather dangerous vehicles. The design allows an easy roll-over while pulling heavy loads. On the tractors’ safety conference, Donham et al. (1997) indentified the safety system of a driver as the critically important feature with which tractors must be equipped. Besides the compulsory safety belts, the special protecting structure is installed over the driver’s seat. The open-air tractors have a metal beam protecting the driver from injury in a roll-over crush. Tractors with a cabin contain such system within the cabin’s structure. The protection system was applied as a compulsory feature in the U.S. in 1986. However, the tractors released before this period are to be modernized with the low-cost protection systems.

The Complex Impact of Tractors on Agriculture

Embracing the subject of tractors’ technical improvements during the period of about a hundred years, the universal versatility should be recognized as the legal result of that development. Nowadays, dozens of standard-sized tractors are offered for a variety of farm applications. Huge steerable all-tracked power units for wide wheat fields along with super compact mini-tractors for lawns are available in the contemporary tractor industry. The influence of tractors on social and economic aspects of agriculture cannot be underestimated. The imagination refuses to conceive the modern world without tractors. The changes in social positions of population induced by tractors began in the early 1900s. The gradual job cut for tenants and farm laborers pushed them to move to cities where the great labor demand took place due to rapid development of heavy industry. This process lasted several decades of the first part of the twentieth century. The final formation of the urban and rural parts of the American society finished after the World War II (Danbom, 1995).

Tractors’ appliance in agriculture should be accepted as the inducer of the process. Mechanization of farm jobs by means of tractors increased the productivity of agricultural labor so much that millions of people became redundant. Another impact of tractors concerns landscapes. The tractor allowed one farmer to cultivate the land equal by its square to the one that was previously cultivated by several families. Huge lands had been dedicated to growing of horses in the past were transformed into areas under crops. Elimination of draft animals from the farming process became possible only after the tractors with inner combustion engines had become widespread. The positive effect of such change resulted in increasing the cost efficiency of agriculture. A horse or a mule consumed at least one fifth of the product that was grown with their help. The cost of fuel, hydraulic oil and spare parts for tractors is lower that forage feeding for draft animals engaged in cultivation of the similar land size. Thus, the cost of agricultural products was decreased while the productivity of agriculture increased. As the tendency of overpopulation remains, the efficient agriculture provides food safety for both megalopolises and rural areas.

In modern times, the tractors’ influence on agriculture concerns ecological problems. Inner combustion engines of tractors release chemical waste into the atmosphere. The methods of the pollution reduction comprise of modifications in the engines and the development of the optimal modes of application. Achieving the optimal torque is essential for reduction of CO pollution of the diesel tractor engines (“Evaluating working quality of tractors by their harmful impact on the environment,” n.d.).


The history of the development of agriculture is directly linked to modernization of the production means. The above research demonstrates the essential role of tractors in technological, social and economical spheres of farming during the last 100 years. The unceasing growth of population throughout the world requires the agriculture to be highly productive to prevent food deficiency. In such a context, the general mechanization of agriculture cannot avoid the use of tractors. The modern tractor industry provides farmers with a variety of reliable and cost-efficient tractors for all types of farming works requiring mechanization.

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