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Steam Engines

The first tractors were steam engines on wheels. They were originally pulled to the work area by horses or oxen. The next style of these tractors used the steam engine to power a drive train and move the machine to where it needed to go. These machines were very large and weighed up to 18 tonnes (20 tons), which is the same as about 12,800 bricks.

The first steam engine was invented in 1849 by A.M. Archambault & Company. This later was later turned into a steam tractor that could move through fields and pull farm equipment.

An illustrated steam engine tractor is shown in a farm field.

This tractor is powered by a steam engine.

Gas Tractors

The first gas-powered tractor was invented by John Froelich from Iowa in 1890. He formed a company with eight investors called Waterloo. Very few tractors were sold initially – only 20 between 1896 and 1914. Even though tractors were available, initially very few farmers could afford these large machines. They were also not efficient when it came to muddy and uneven soil, due to their massive weight and steel wheels.

A drawing of a gas tractor is shown with steel tires on a frame with an engine on it.

This is one of the first gas-powered tractors.

In 1907, Ford developed the ‘Fordson’, which was a three-speed tractor. The Fordson was the first tractor that was small, lightweight, and was mass-produced at the affordable price of $750.
An illustrated green and yellow tractor with steel tires is parked.

This was one of the early gasoline-powered tractors that only had a single speed.

By 1910, gas-powered tractors were the primary machine used for farming.

Kerosene Tractors

John Deere bought the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company in 1918 and continued to develop and sell the lineup of Waterloo Boy tractors. These tractors ran on kerosene, not gasoline. It cost $1,150 to buy a new Waterloo Boy Tractor.

A green and yellow Waterloo Boy tractor with steel tires is shown.

The Waterloo Boy tractor was powered by kerosene.

Take a look at how the 1920 Waterloo Boy Tractor ran and imagine farming entire fields with this tractor!

General Purpose Tractors

International Harvester was the first farm equipment company to advertise a gas-powered PTO (Power Take Off) in the tractor market in 1918. This drastically changed the tractor industry by allowing tractors to power the equipment they were pulling.

Next, they released their light-duty, all-purpose, Farmall tractor. This tractor was specifically designed for cultivating, plowing, and cutting.

A Farmall tractor is parked in a farm field.

The Farmall tractor was an all-purpose tractor that farmers could use for a variety of farm tasks.

In 1927, John Deere added a power lift to their tractors, allowing implements to be raised and lowered with a lever from the tractor.

By 1932, most of the market was made up of general-purpose tractors. They changed very little over the next 30 years, except in size and horsepower.

In 1934, John Deere came out with the Model A and Model B tractors. These remain the most popular John Deere models produced until 1952.

An illustrated green tractor has an open cab.

This style of tractor was invented in the 1930s and remained the most popular style until the 1960s.

A yellow and green steel tractor is shown.

Model A

A green and yellow open-cab tractor is parked in a field.

Model B

By 1940, tractors had completely removed the need for oxen and horses to be used as work animals. As a major turning point for farmers, they were now able to harvest more crops and increase production.

A JD 4020 tractor is parked in a farm field.

The best-selling John Deere tractor of all time was released in 1963: the John Deere 4020.

Learn about the history of the tractor and the developments that have been made to tractors as we know them today.

Modern Tractors

Many companies have contributed to the expansion of tractors and continue to develop new designs and concepts to help make the most efficient machines for farmers. Today’s tractors range in size and horsepower. The bigger the equipment the tractor is pulling, the bigger the tractor needs to be! There are even tractors that do not have tires, but 4 large tracks instead. The advancements in tractors have played a role in modernizing farming and allowing farmers to grow more food with less manual labour.

A red tractor with tracks is parked in a field.

Tractors with tracks are more fuel-efficient and better in wet soil.


Tractors today have advanced computer and monitoring systems that give farmers information they need when they are working on the field. Some tractors use ‘autosteer’ which uses GPS (Global Positioning System) to guide the equipment in the field. Tractors use GPS to collect soil samples, mark obstacles in the field, and use resources such as fertilizer and seed efficiently.

Some companies have even begun designing and manufacturing self-driving tractors.

A red tractor with no cab for a driver pulls a piece of equipment in a farm field.

This is a driverless tractor that is still in testing stages, but it hasn’t been mass produced for farmers to purchase yet.