Answered By: Archives & Library Staff @The Henry Ford
Last Updated: Aug 15, 2018 Views: 168


During WWI Henry Ford and Son built 7,000 tractors for Great Britain to help alleviate their food shortage by mechanizing food production. Ford shipped the first tractor October 6, 1917 and completed the order in April 1918.

Ford had early on planned to build tractors and began erecting a tractor plant in Dearborn in 1915 where he worked on experimental models. The site produced a number of prototypes that were used on Ford Farms and were demonstrated at State Fairs and Agricultural societies in the U.S and abroad, but no production tractors had been manufactured leading up to WWI.

Meanwhile in Europe, WWI was beginning to create food shortages in England. The country had focused mainly on manufacturing, and imported much of its foodstuff, however with ships tied up in the war and U-boat warfare making importation difficult, Britain needed to mechanize their food production to raise higher yields. Ford was already in communication with Lord Percival Perry, head of Ford of England, about plans to build a tractor plant in Cork, Ireland and in 1917 Perry purchased land to build the plant and construction began. However, due to various factors the factory was not completed until 1919 and was unable to produce for the war effort. Perry wrote to Edsel Ford in April 1917 asking him to send Charles Sorensen, head of tractor production in Dearborn, along with drawings, and equipment specifications to build a tractor plant in England to build Fordson tractors. Ford immediately agreed and in May sent over a delegation of tractor plant executives to work out a plant and production flow. The party arrived and started work but plans were again disrupted by the war; air raids in June shifted Britain’s manufacturing efforts to aircraft production and Perry and Ford were informed by the government that tractor production in England would not be possible.

Perry and the Ministry of Munitions, realizing they still needed tractors, asked Ford to produce 6,000 tractors in Dearborn to be shipped to England. Ford was hesitant to agree, stating his tractor was not yet ready for mass production, but British Government officials told him they couldn’t wait for the perfect tractor. In June, 1917 Ford and the Ministry of Munitions came to an agreement and soon Henry Ford and Son was incorporated and production of Fordson tractors began. The first tractor was completed in October 1917, with 254 completed by the end of the year. Production picked up in January 1918 and by April all the tractors, 6,000 assembled, and another 1,000 in parts, had been delivered. A few months after the war ended, H.C.B. Underdown from the Ministry of Munitions wrote to Ford of England thanking them for the tractors, “I would especially refer to the efficient way in which your firm, as contractors to the Ministry carried out the assembly of the Fordson Tractors which Messrs Henry Ford & Son so magnanimously supplied to the Government at cost price. But for your co-operation the Country’s needs as regards its food production campaign could not have been met, and the food crisis would in all probability not have been surmounted.”

   Acc. 266 Henry Ford & Son, Ltd. records subseries
      box 1 English contracts and letters (2 folders)

   Acc. 329 Henry Ford & Son, Inc. records
      box 1 Minute Book, 1917-1926
               Correspondence, 1918-1920
               Report of Audit, 1920
               Transfer of Tractor Rights to Henry Ford, 1918
               Dealer Contract, ca. 1918
               Articles of Incorporation, 1917 and Change of Attitude, 1920
      box 2 Stock Certificate Book, 1917-1920

   Acc. 787 Henry Ford & Son, Inc., records subseries
      box 1 Check registers, 1915-1920

   Acc. 215 Henry Ford and Son, Inc. Purchasing records
      box 1-2 Purchase orders for machinery and machine tools purchased, 1917-1920

   Acc. 185 Tractor Correspondence and Reports series
      box 1 Henry Ford and Son; Dearborn
                   Articles of Incorporation
                   Annual Report for 1917
                   Blueprint of Tractor Plant
                   Description of Property
                U. S. Government (War Department; Agricultural Department and Congress),
                   Priority to Manufacture Fordson Tractors.

   Acc. 62 Henry Ford Office papers
      box 14 Henry Ford and Son, January-March 1918
      box 15 Henry Ford and Son, April-December 1918
      box 51 Henry Ford and Son, 1916-1917

   Acc. 1 Fair Lane papers
      box 183 Henry Ford & Son, July 27, 1917 - June 1920

   Acc. 38 Charles E. Sorensen Office Files and Personal Records
      box 44 Tractors
                    General, 1915
                    Dearborn Plant Inspection Report, 1917
                    Early Deliveries, 1915-1919
                    Test #242, 1916 (4 cylinder Ford tractor motor)
                    Test #261, 1916 (Gasoline vs. kerosene horse power and brake power comparison)

   Acc.6 Edsel B. Ford office papers
      box 191 Ford Motor Company of England, Ltd., 1917-1926 (2 of 2)

   Acc. 572 Nevins and Hill research, original documents and notes series
      box 24 No.11.28 Tractors
                       English clippings & letters Re: Tractors
                       Confidential Price List (Oil)
                       Sales Reports
      box 32 No.15 Henry Ford and Son

   Acc. 951 Ford Motor Company Non-Serial Publications Collection
      box 50 To You, 11/1917, Henry Ford and Sons, Limited

   Small Accessions
      Acc. 541 Brown, Bernard R. papers (includes Fordson Tractors, World War I), 1916-1955

   Acc. 1660 Photographic Vertical file
      box 21 Tractors-Fordson-Michigan-Dearborn-Tractor Plant
      box 144 Tractors-Fordson-England-Trafford Park
                    Tractors-Fordson-Michigan-Dearborn (documents, exteriors, interiors)

   Acc. 833 General Photographs
      box 40 Henry Ford (80a)
      box 131 Fordson tractors, 1916-1932 (4 folders, 311a - 311d)
      box 132 Fordson tractors, 1916-1932 (311e)

Oral Histories
   65_ 99 Richard Kroll
   65_118 J. L. McCloud
   65_71 Theodore F. Gehle
   65_14 Howard D. Beebe
   65_2 Norman J. Ahrens
   65_108 E. G. Liebold (Part I)
   65_63 E. J. Farkas
   65_154 Herman M. Reinhold

Vertical File
   Henry Ford & Son (Tractors)
       Articles, 1910s (2 folders)
       Cork Factory

Books and Secondary
   Ford: expansion and challenge, 1915-1933. Allan Nevins and Frank Ernest Hill
      338.76292 F699 N527 1957 

   Beyond the Model T: the other ventures of Henry Ford. Ford R. Bryan
      338.76292 F699 B915b 1990

   Fordson tractors: an anatomy 1917-52. Allan T. Condie
      OS 629.225 F71 C74 1979

   Fordson tractors: a history in pictures 1917 to 1964. Allan T. Condie
      Reference   629.225 F712 C745 1979

   Fordson tractor manual and parts price list. Henry Ford & Son, Inc.
      P.B. 1917

1. 64.167.833.P.20640 Henry Ford and Ford Executives with the First Commercial Tractor Shipped to England, 1917
2. P.O.15297 Tractor testing at Trafford Park Ford Plant, England, 1918
3. P.O.15296 Loading tractor on railway truck, Trafford Park Ford Plant, England, 1918 
4. P.833.20681 - Photographic print - "Henry Ford and Lord Northcliffe Driving Fordson Tractors, Dearborn, Michigan, 1917

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