Ag History: Ford N Series Tractors And The Handshake That Changed Farming Forever

Edsel Ford succeeded his father as CEO of Ford in 1919, but Henry continued to have a heavy hand in operations. When Edsel died in 1943, Henry came back to run the company, but by this time was in a poor mental state; after forcing his long-time friend Sorenson out in 1944 (perhaps somewhat fueled by jealousy over Charles’ fame), Henry himself died, in 1947, at age 83. FoMoCo was by now largely being run in a very heavy-handed manner by Harry Bennett, and it was only through an coup led by Edsel’s widow that he was removed and Henry Ford II installed as President.

Ferguson, meanwhile, had dissolved his partnership with the Sherman brothers in 1941, and had been actively shopping around 9N blueprints in hopes of finding someone to manufacture an improved version of the tractor in the UK. Ford UK had been unable to start 9N production before the war started, and now expressed little interest in producing the 2N there, post-war (in conflict with one of the points of the ‘handshake agreement’); they instead introduced the E-27N Fordson, with a 30 hp engine. Enter Standard Motor Company, which at this time had an empty 1 million sq. ft. ‘shadow factory’ in Coventry that had produced Bristol Aero engines during WWII. Managing Director Sir John Black was familiar with Ferguson’s dilemma, and set up a meeting in late 1945 at which Ferguson and Black agreed that Standard would have the rights to manufacture Ferguson tractors in the UK – in fact, anywhere except the Americas and Philippines – and Ferguson would have full control of design, development, sales and service.

The result was the Ferguson TE-20 (TE = Tractor England, 20 = a calculated hp rating based on displacement), with the first unit rolling off the line on July 6, 1946. Improvements over the 9N/2N included a four-speed transmission, grouped left and right brake pedals, hinged hood for easier service and a US-sourced Continental Z-120 OHV gasoline engine making about 22 bhp. In 1947, the Continental began to be replaced by the 24 hp wet-liner engine Standard had developed for the Vanguard car, which became the sole powerplant by July 1948. Only 315 units were produced the first year, but production of the “Fergie” quickly ramped up with 20,578 units made in 1947 and 56,877 in 1948. A total of 517,651 TE-20s would be manufactured by 1956, when the model was discontinued.

Back at Ford Motor Company, Henry II had his hands full sorting out the tangled mess it was in after his father’s death, and he soon realized that Ford had been loosing money (est. $25 million) on the 9N/2N tractors. Ferguson, on the other hand, had been doing quite well with his sales organization, netting US $4.3 million in 1946.

One of the first changes Henry II made was to move 2N production from the River Rouge plant to Highland Park, where a closer eye could be kept on production costs. He also had little appetite for Ford continuing to produce a tractor to be sold at a loss to Ferguson’s separate sales organization – especially with Ferguson now producing a virtual knock-off of the 9N in the UK. Henry II contacted Ferguson and proposed they either end the selling arrangement or Ford would have to enact a stiff price increase. When Ferguson demurred, Ford notified him in November 1946 that they would no longer supply tractors to his company as of June 30, 1947, and had his own team of engineers start on a redesign of the 2N. The Dec. 2, 1946, issue of Time reported, “In 1939 a shy, taciturn Irish inventor named Harry Ferguson made a deal with a shy, talkative inventor named Henry Ford… Last week young Henry Ford II announced that the seven-year deal was off. Neither Ford nor Ferguson gave a reason for the split.”

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