1. Home
  2. Farm Mechanization

Top 10 Innovational Breakthroughs In Tractor Technology Over the Years

The following are ten of the most significant tractor advancements in history. In broad terms, though, it's apparent that some contributions were watershed moments in history, serving as a springboard for a slew of subsequent inventions and advances.

Chintu Das

Images of old man John Deere's 1837 model steel walking plough may hover in the minds of 21st-century farmers as they click instructions onto touchscreens using their tractor's artificial intelligence (AI) driven systems.

The technology behind tractors has come a long way, from horse-drawn machinery to steam, gasoline, diesel, and even electric, resulting in a slew of astounding tractor improvements over nearly two centuries. And all of the field's supporters are looking forward to the future.

The following are ten of the most significant tractor advancements in history. In broad terms, though, it's apparent that some contributions were watershed moments in history, serving as a springboard for a slew of subsequent inventions and advances.

Steam Dream

Throughout the nineteenth century, steam engines were still employed, but most were merely portable steam engines and boilers mounted on wheels. Merritt & Kellogg was founded in 1873 by Richard Merritt and Daniel Kellogg of Battle Creek, Michigan, to develop one of the first self-propelled steam traction engines capable of moving from farm to farm without the use of horses.

With one of the first commercially successful units manufactured by C & G Cooper Co., the year 1876 is typically considered a birthday in the United States for agricultural steam traction engines replacing steam ploughs.

Giving it Gas 

This was the first of the machines to feature a single cylinder, 20-horsepower engine, and clutch. Steam engines had been used in farm machinery for years, but they were too large and cumbersome to be mounted on a mobile unit. Froelich and blacksmith Will Mann devised a vertical, one-cylinder engine mounted on a steam engine's running gear to create a machine that could thresh 72,000 bushels of grain in its first year. After that, Froelich founded the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Co.

Power Takeoff

The first commercial power takeoff (PTO) was invented by International Harvester in 1919 and was integrated into the 8-16 model. The machine had a three-speed unsynchronized gear system, four cylinders, and an 85-inch wheelbase. It had an 11-gallon kerosene fuel tank and a 42-wheel chassis. With a governed revolutions per minute (RPM) of 1,000, the PTO horsepower was measured at 19 belt and 11 drawbar.

Mass Production

Just as troops fighting in World War I were running out of food, Henry Ford produced the Fordson Model F in 1917. The $395 Fordson Model F was the first tractor to be mass built in the same way as automobiles, a method that Ford himself had revolutionised.

The Model F was manufactured in Dearborn, Michigan, from 1917 to 1920. Ford was able to sell these units more cheaply to small farmers across the country since they were smaller and easier to construct on an assembly line.

Three-Point Linkage System

Harry Ferguson designed the hitch points in the early 1920s and patented the system in 1925, with a third hitch point added to another patent in 1928. The original design featured two upper and one lower link, however most following variants had two lower and one upper link.

This three-point system would allow modern hydraulics to be added to tractors, allowing them to become more than just hauling and dragging machines. Ferguson's Brown Type A tractor was the first to use this technique.

Rubber Tires

Tractor tyres were made of metal, usually steel, until the 1930s. The issues were significant, since the clanging and banging across dirt roads caused significant damage.

Attempts to make alternative types of tyres date back to the 1800s, but it wasn't until 1918 that International Harvester became the first company to use solid rubber tyres on a manufacturing tractor.

Because of a campaign coordinated by the Firestone Company, more than 90% of tractors had rubber tyres by 1940.

Entry of Diesel

Early tractors ran on kerosene and gasoline, but attempts to develop a diesel tractor date back to the 1920s. Diesel fuel, as both producers and operators are aware, contains more energy per gallon than gasoline, making it more efficient.

The D9900, or "Old Betsy," was a hand-built prototype of a diesel engine produced by Caterpillar in 1927. Caterpillar began manufacturing its first diesel tractor, the Caterpillar Diesel Sixty Tractor, in 1931, and within a few years, the business had become the world's leading maker of diesel engines.

Tractors Get Cabs

Every farmer understands that farming is a year-round business, and where would modern farmers be if they didn't have cabs?

Minneapolis-Moline Co., based in Minnesota, began work on the UDLX Comfortractor, a fully enclosed tractor, in 1935. It was introduced to the market in 1938. The Minneapolis-Moline began with the Model U, which had an 81-inch wheelbase and a semi-perimeter chassis, with the front axle and engine mounted on a 1-by-6-inch steel plate frame. The max speed of the Comfortractor was 25 miles per hour.

Interestingly, when comparing larger subcompact tractors with and without cabs, modern tractor buyers would recognise those numbers.


Surprisingly, the John Deere Precision Farming group based in Moline, Illinois was one of the first to embrace this new technology. In 1994, the John Deere Precision Agriculture team's work fused with innovations pioneered by defence contractor Rockwell International Corp.'s Vision System and the comprehensive field maps it developed. To record harvest volume and match that data with location maps, this technology was paired with computers inside combines.

In 1996, John Deere and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory collaborated to create the first GPS receiver. By 2018, self-guided systems have farmed 60 to 70% of agricultural acreage in North America, 30% to 50% of crop acreage in Europe, and more than 90% of crop acreage in Australia.

AI and Smart Farming

In 1837, a man named John Deere invented a new type of plough that could be walked behind while guiding a team of horses. Imagine his surprise if he saw his name on the 4640 Universal Display inside a green and gold tractor as a brand. Producers can monitor everything from seed distance during planting to temperature and moisture using the 10.4-inch smart touchscreen, which has four-way video camera support and interconnection between the tractor and equipment.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems have become so ingrained in agriculture that pinpointing a specific era is impossible. With better gauges, sensors, and data-tracking, computerised tractors and combines became "smarter" almost immediately after GPS became a reality.

International No Diet Day 2024 Quiz Take a quiz
Share your comments
FactCheck in Agriculture Project

Subscribe to our Newsletter. You choose the topics of your interest and we'll send you handpicked news and latest updates based on your choice.

Subscribe Newsletters