In the history of tractors, naturally, they were initially on the small side. As technology improved, tractor manufacturers made them larger and correspondingly more powerful. The modern compact tractors are produced to take advantage of technology as well, packing much power and agility into a smaller sized tractor.
Many Experiments in Tractor Construction
The two-cycle internal-combustion engine, patented in 1876, gave new direction to the development of the farm tractor. A tractor using this type of engine was built in the United States as early as 1889. In the years immediately following, experimental tractors were built in various parts of the country, and by 1902 several companies manufacturing gas tractors were listed in farm equipment buyers’ guides. At least one of those companies has survived and is still an important manufacturer of farm tractors.
In 1905 the idea of producing a gas tractor gained impetus as a result of a meeting held in Winnipeg, Canada, by tractor manufacturers. Six companies participated, and the following year 2,000 gas tractors were produced. It soon became evident that tractors with internal compilation engines were better suited to farm tractors than those with steam engines.
However, almost a decade passed before this point was conceded by the proponents of the steam tractor. As late as 1920 steam tractors were being built.
Between 1915 and 1923 many types of tractors were introduced Like the making of the automobile there was much effort to standardize the tractor and produce it at the lowest possible cost so as to bring it within the range of the farmers’ ability to purchase.
In 1924 appeared the first successful all-purpose tractor. The idea of combining the tractor with horse-drawn implements had by this time been generally discarded, and designers had decided that the most feasible way to get a really general purpose outfit was to redesign both the tractor and its implements. As a result of this decision, continued progress is being made in the ease and rapidity with which field equipment can be attached or detached from all-purpose tractors. Engineers say that tractors, like automobiles, can be stream-lined to greater and more efficient use.
The substitution of mechanical for animal motive power on the farm ushered in a series of changes which led to a substantial savings of labor in crop production, an increased volume of transportation, a reduction in the number of work animals and a shift in acreage from the production of horse feed to other uses.
Moreover, the tractor is not merely a substitute for animal power. The old horse-drawn equipment was, for the most part, found to be unsuited for tractor use. It had to be redesigned and adapted to the requirements of efficient tractor utilization. This development was aided by the introduction of the all-purpose tractor and particularly the power take-off which made it possible to transmit power from the tractor to the implement.
Vast Amount of Labor Saved
The automobile and the truck are in a sense complementary to the tractor. When horses were displaced by tractor power in field work, the automobile and the truck also eliminated them as a major factor in transportation. For instance, in 1918 there were about one and a quarter million tractors on the land, and over four million automobiles and one million motor trucks.
The use of these tractors and transportation units on the farms has effected a saving of approximately 650 million man-hours annually in the form of labor and saved in field operations in caring for the displaced work animals and young stock as well as labor saved in caring for the retained animals due to their lightened burden. A vastly increased volume of farm transportation has been performed with a small amount of farm labor.
The amount of human effort that could be shifted from production of horse feed to production of other products is estimated to be at least 385 million man-hours annually The total annual saving amounts to over one billion man-hours of work.
In addition, some 25 million acres of cropland and 31 million acres of pasture land have been released from the production of feed for draft animals to other uses. But the tractor, like many other mechanical devices, has helped to create a two-fold problem. A smaller number of workers are needed on the farm and the farmer is able to produce more for an already depressed market.