There was probably some cake in the lunchrooms during the afternoon break at Ford’s Dearborn, Michigan, plant and offices on July 27th last year. (Well, I’m guessing there was.) Why? Because that day marked the 100th anniversary of Ford truck production.
A red letter day for the brand to be sure.
To meet demand for businesses that needed a commercial vehicle to haul and deliver goods, Ford modified the original Model T car by beefing up the frame, among other things, and made it into the Model TT truck. Those modifications gave it a one-ton payload rating. It wasn’t the first North American truck by any means. Brands such as Mack were building the big rigs of the day. Mack was supplying heavy trucks—even four-wheel drive models, if memory serves me correctly—to the European war effort in relatively large numbers.
But when it came to numbers of units sold, the TT was a major player in the early truck market by anyone’s measure, and Ford marketed them heavily to rural residents. The company billed it as the vehicle that could haul farm goods during the week and get the family to church on Sunday. $600 ($9,607.32 in today’s dollars, according to RBC.) would park one in your farmyard back in the day. (To put that in perspective, Grainews just completed a road test of a 2018 F-150, which had a sticker price of $80,499.)
By 1928 there were 1.3 million TTs on the road, and Ford decided to offer an uprated truck, the Model AA, which had a 1.5-ton capacity. In 1933, the BB replaced the AA. In turn, the Model 50 replaced the BB in 1935. The 50 was only available with the classic Ford Flathead V-8 that people today still love to drop into customized vehicles.
On October 8th of 1917 Henry Ford also introduced the Fordson tractor. With Ford splitting off its agricultural equipment division a few decades ago, that heritage now belongs to the New Holland brand. And they, too, are celebrating the centennial.
22 years after Henry Ford proudly rode his Fordson 22 for a photo op, the infamous 9N tractor debuted in 1939 sporting a three-point hitch. The first North American-built tractor to incorporate that feature, which today is in wider use than ever.
As a celebration of it’s 100-year heritage, in 2016 NH purchased a survivor 9N, painted it pink and started showing it at dealerships and a variety of shows to help raise funds for the American and Canadian Cancer Societies.
As the calendar page flipped over to 2018 this month, John Deere began announcing its plans to celebrate 100 years of tractor production. In 1918 the green brand purchased the Waterloo Boy Tractor Company, and brought its tractor design into Deere’s fold.
Historians point out that Deere engineers were already developing their own in-house tractor that was well into the testing phase at the time of the Waterloo Boy purchase. After acquiring a fully market-ready design, Deere abandoned its own prototype. So among purists, there is some debate over which one of those tractors is entitled to be called Deere’s first model.
Interestingly, at a Deere corporate media event I was at a few years ago, one of the brand’s executives related the contents of a letter the brand sent out to its dealers in 1918, which downplayed the introduction of its new tractor. Essentially, the letter urged dealers not to worry. Horse-drawn equipment had been and would always be the farm machinery of choice it said, adding this new gasoline tractor thing was just a fad. Eventually, it will fade away, said the company’s then president.
With annual global sales now well north of U.S.$30 billion based entirely on the fad of tractor power, I’d say subsequent management teams recovered quite nicely from that faulty prediction.