Thank you, Farmer Froelich!

John Froelich was born on this day in 1849. Who? John Froelich.

John was the inventor of the first gas-powered tractor, an invention that dramatically changed the lives of farmers everywhere. Prior to John’s invention, farmers relied on either horse-drawn field equipment or bulky and dangerous steam-powered equipment that resulted in frequent fires.

Evolution of sickle and flail, 33 horse team harvester, cutting, threshing and sacking wheat, Walla Walla, Washington, 1902 via Wikimedia Commons

photo by Brunswyk via Wikimedia Commons

In 1890, Farmer Froelich tried something new: he mounted a one-cylinder gasoline engine onto the running gear of his steam-powered thresher. (Gasoline, or internal combustion engines were a new invention; Karl Benz, founder of Mercedes-Benz, had just designed the first automobiles in production in 1885.) With his experiment a success, he went on to found the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company, and continued to work on his engine, but by 1913, he had sold only 20 tractors. That didn’t stop John though—plowing through adversity is something farmers know well. John continued to improve his tractor engine, and considered it a success when he sold 118 tractors in 1914 alone. He named his hit The Waterloo Boy and went on to sell 8,000 tractors by 1918, when plow-manufacturing company Deere & Company (later renamed John Deere) bought the company for over 2 million dollars!

The Waterloo Tractor Works, in Waterloo, Iowa, is still owned by John Deere, and is one of the largest tractor factories in the U.S.

Thank you, John, for your visionary invention.

Leave a comment 4 Comments

  1. Where I live here in Amishland in Lancaster County PA, the Amish and old order Mennonites still farm with horses mostly. But you also see the very early tractors a lot. If your church gets more ” modern” you are allowed to use a tractor but it can’t have rubber tires, so you see the old antique ” steel wheel” tractors often.
    Thanks for telling us about the history of tractors.
    And MaryJane that is one of my favorite photos of you !

    • MaryJane says:

      Thanks Lisa. Funny thing is, I tried to take it myself for a couple of days, with a timer, but I never quite made it to the tractor in time. So on the third day, I had my SIL come and push the button on my camera in its tri-pod. Totally. Not. Staged:)

  2. Krista says:

    What an amazing piece of history. We have come so far in our evolution of the tractor. It’s amazing how Farmer Froelich’s simple idea of adding a gasoline engine to his steam-powered thresher would be the beginning of such a transformation to help farmers be more efficient. I love the pictures of the old tractors. They look so cool. I love attending the fairs here just to see the old tractors that farmers still have and use to this day!

  3. Bonnie ellis says:

    What a neat story. We had a John Deere after my uncle sold his Percherons.

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