History of Farm Tractors - Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company

Minneapolis, Minnesota (1902-1929)

Farm Tractor
Farm Tractor. F.A. Pazandak Photograph Collection

The Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company (MS&M Co.) was founded in Minneapolis by J.L. Record and Otis Briggs on April 24, 1902, to manufacture steel components for buildings, bridges, and other steel structures.

Twin City "40" Farm Tractor

The MS&M Co. engaged in the singular steel fabrication business until 1910, when the Joy-Wilson Company of Minneapolis was hired to design a tractor for them.
The tractor that was designed later evolved into the famous Twin City "40" tractor, and began the company's successful venture into the tractor business. A few years later, the MS&M Co. expanded its role in the tractor business by subcontracting to build heavy tractors for other manufacturers like Case Threshing Machine Company, and Bull Tractor Company.

Lightweight Farm Tractors

By the late teens, MS&M Co. engineers realized the trend in tractor design was moving away from the massive behemoths that were their specialty, to smaller, cheaper, and more compact tractor designs. As a result, an entirely new line of lightweight tractors was engineered, supplemented by a new line of threshing machines and farm trucks. The new line of lightweight "Twin City" tractors were very well engineered, and as a testament to their quality they later served as the basis for the entire Minneapolis-Moline tractor line.

Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Company

Overall, sales of "Twin City" products increased throughout the twenties with growing consumer acceptance, but in the depressed agricultural economy of that period it was very difficult for a short line company like MS&M Co.
to survive on its own. Therefore, merger negotiations began with another short line company, the Moline Implement Company of Moline, Illinois, and later included the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company of Hopkins, Minnesota. An agreement was eventually reached, and on March 30, 1929, the three short line companies were amalgamated to form the Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Company.

The Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company (MTM Co.) was founded in Hopkins, Minnesota, by John S. McDonald as an outgrowth of the former Fond du Lac Threshing Machine Company. Initially, in 1887, the new company only manufactured threshing machines, but later it expanded into the manufacture of steam traction engines.

Minneapolis 35-70 Farm Tractor

After only a few years on the market, "Minneapolis" steam engines and threshing machines had established a highly regarded name for themselves among farmers in the grain-growing regions of the United States and Canada. By 1911, however, steam traction engines had begun to lose favor among progressive farmers, and so the MTM Co. decided to enter the vastly expanding tractor business. Therefore, Walter I. McVicker was hired to design a tractor which became, after some refinement, the successful Minneapolis "35-70."

In the late teens, MTM Co. followed the industry trend by expanding into the small tractor market with their newly designed "15-30" tractor. Refined, and identically styled larger horsepower tractors were later added to fill out the tractor line, replacing the older models. These newly designed tractors all featured the large bore, long stroke engine design that was to become a trademark of all Minneapolis-Moline tractors built after the merger in 1929.

Joining the Merger Negotiations

Much like the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Comapny, was a short line manufacturer, the MTM Co. realized that it could not remain competitive as an independent company. In 1928, officials of the MTM Co. heard about the ongoing merger negotiations between Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Co. and Moline Implement Company, and made it known to both parties that they wished to be included.

This proposition was ultimately accepted by the other companies, because besides possessing a respected name in farm equipment, the MTM Co.

brought a quality combine and corn sheller into the fold. An agreement was eventually reached, and on March 30, 1929, the three short line companies were amalgamated to form the Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Company.

Around the turn of the century, D.M. Hartsough began conducting his own tractor design experiments. In 1904, Hartsough's tractor design was one of the earliest to incorporate a multi-cylinder engine, providing smoother operation and power transmission to the rear wheels.

Big 4 Farm Tractors

This early design was later improved and became the basis for the famous "Big 4" tractor line, so named because of their massive 4-cylinder engines and overall size.

Transit Threshers

By 1906, Patrick Lyons had become interested in Hartsough's tractor design, and an agreement was reached to build the tractor at a factory in Minneapolis. Originally, the new company was named the Transit Thresher Company, which reflected the notion of Lyons to eliminate bundle wagons by moving the tractor and threshing machine around the field to the grain shocks. The "transit thresher" concept proved to be unpopular, and therefore the company was reorganized in 1908 as the Gas Traction Company, to manufacture just tractors.

The Gas Traction Co. remained an independent entity until 1912, when it was purchased by the Emerson-Brantingham Implement Company of Rockford, Illinois. Emerson-Brantingham continued to build the venerable "Big 4" line of tractors, eventually expanding it to include several power sizes.

The Last of the Big 4 Farm Tractors

Throughout the teens, Emerson-Brantingham was devoted to the task of heavily promoting the "Big 4" line at various fairs and exhibitions in the United States and Canada. By 1920, however, the massive "Big 4" tractors had lost favor among farmers and were rapidly being replaced by lighter and more maneuverable models. Therefore, the decision was made by Emerson-Brantingham executives to discontinue the revered "Big 4" tractor line. While the name may have disappeared, no one should forget the role that "Big 4" tractors and others like it played in breaking the vast open prairies.

The Geiser Manufacturing Company (Geiser Mfg. Co.) was founded in 1855 by Peter Geiser at Smithburg, Maryland, to manufacture threshing machines. In 1860, the company moved to Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, on land that was purchased from a competitor, George Frick.

Peerless Steam Engine

By 1881, the company had become incorporated and their first steam engine was introduced, nicknamed the "Peerless ." The new "Peerless" steam engine was intended to directly compete with the neighboring Frick Company steam engine, the "Eclipse." Soon, Geiser "Peerless" steam engines established a reputation as being solid, well-built, quality steam engines.

To further broaden their product line, Geiser Mfg.

Co. developed a steam-powered "Peerless" gang plow, to go along with the "New Peerless" threshing machines, hay presses, and sawmills that were already in the line.

Early Gasoline Powered Farm Tractors

In addition, the Geiser Mfg. Co. was engaged in the early developmental work on gasoline tractors and introduced their own model in 1910. The Geiser Mfg. Co. attempted to expand into the lucrative Midwestern market, but their success was hindered by the large transportation costs incurred from shipping their products westward. Even with several high quality products, the Geiser Mfg. Co. realized it could not survive as an independent company without a larger Midwestern market share.

Therefore, in 1912, the company, the plant, and all designs and manufacturing rights were sold to the Emerson-Brantingham Implement Company of Rockford, Illinois. Emerson-Brantingham continued to manufacture the respected line of "Peerless" steam engines and threshing machines until the mid-1920s.

Surviving that long was truly a testament of their quality, for by that time most companies had already abandoned the manufacture of steam engines.

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