Focus on machines: Farmall – the first 100 years


If the Fordson was the major innovation that brought mechanization to agriculture, it was the International Farmall that picked up where Henry Ford left off and continued the revolution.

The name was first introduced in 1921 for a light, maneuverable tractor that offered an alternative to the bulk and stiffness of the Fordson, and it still appears on the smaller tractors in the Case IH line.

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While Henry Ford might have been a great for leaps and bounds forward, he was somewhat conservative in his approach to building on what he had created.

International managed to capitalize on this reluctance to develop the original concept, with a new tractor that filled many of the Fordson’s shortcomings.

The early 1920s had seen the decline of large, heavy prairie-killing machines and the adoption of more affordable lightweights, a charge led by Henry Ford and his aggressive pricing policies.

International itself had enjoyed great success with models such as the 12-25 and 15-30, sharing an equal market share with Fordson in 1927.

The following year, Ford abandoned tractor manufacturing in the United States entirely and shipped production tools to its Cork plant. International continued to claim 62% of the market following this departure.

Self-propelled cultivators

Yet it wasn’t just the tractors that were selling. The first decades of the 20th century saw many companies producing tillers. These were generally single-use machines that were light and relatively inexpensive.

International built about 300 tillers. This one was sold by Aumann Auctions of Illonois for $36,750 in 2020

International had made a 12 hp model which proved to be faulty in the field, with engine stability and reliability being two major issues.

Although these issues were resolved, they failed to sell well, which was somewhat of a blessing as the company suffered a loss of $50 on each.

Still, the idea never went away, and engineers continued to work on the concept, moving the engine to the center and reversing the direction of travel so it went through the narrow end first.

Evolution rather than revolution

Despite the complete overhaul, some features remained. These included a parallel rail frame in which the engine was mounted and from which tools could be hung.

It also retained its tricycle configuration as it was intended to work in both cotton and maize (maize) crops, and therefore its dimensions needed to accommodate row spacing.

The Farmall F14 was built in 1938/9 and retained the overall look of the original machine

To that end, the front wheel was at first a single item, but this quickly evolved into a close pair. This allowed for a very tight turning radius, giving it a maneuverability that many competing models lacked.

The rear axle, meanwhile, has been pushed to a width of 74 inches, featuring a very wide rear end relative to its overall size.

Rear ground clearance was improved by drop axles which were mounted almost across the width of the rear wheel, allowing it to pass along crop rows without disturbing plants.

The name Farmall was born

As the design progressed it was clear that a new name would be needed to differentiate it from the old cultivator, and so in 1919 it was dubbed the Farm-All to reflect the wide range of roles that was supposed to fill.

Soon after, the hyphen was dropped and the Farmall name entered the farm machinery lexicon where it has remained to this day.

The first tractors were delivered to selected farms in 1923. At first only a limited number of tractors were built, but as these proved effective, production increased until 1930 when more than 42,000 were made.

Unfortunately, the Great Depression then set in and sales dropped to just 14,093 the following year.

Compete with the Mule

During the war years the Farmall grew in size and power, culminating in the 38 hp Model M which was produced from 1939 to 1954.

It was a good size tractor for the time, but even after the war 30% of American farms still used only draft animals, and farm size was still often a matter of 20 acres or less .

Cub Farmall
The Farmall Cub retained the versatility of the original machine, capable of both plowing and mowing, but not simultaneously.

The Model M was too big a tractor for many of these companies, so International took the Farmall back to its roots with the introduction of the Farmall Cub in 1945.

It was a 12 hp model intended specifically for small agricultural producers and market gardeners. It also found favor as a ground service tractor, just as its ancestors had, as International had always been keen on tapping other markets for its machines.

The Cub proved extremely popular and over 245,000 units were manufactured between 1947 and 1981, the year it was finally retired.

Farmall as a badge

From the 1950s, the line of tractors bearing the Farmall name expanded, although often the same model was sold with an International or McCormick badge.

McCormick International Tractor
International’s lighter tractors were often referred to as Farmalls, although they did not carry the Farmall badge

Indeed, the use of the name has become a branding exercise, which is mainly reserved for the American market. However, with the introduction of the World Wide Series (designated the 74 series), the company abandoned it altogether.

another resurrection

It was in 2004 that Case International again brought back the Farmall name and applied it to its smaller line of utility tractors.

farmall international
The Farmall 85A is perfectly suited for lighter duties on grassland farms

Within the company’s current lineup, there are two distinct lines of Farmall. the Close at is an economical machine that is designed, just like its predecessors, to be small, light and manoeuvrable.

The slightly higher-end Farmall C-series tend to be better equipped and are now available with 120hp under the hood; about 10 times more than the original that appeared a century ago.

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