National tractor demonstration

How do you introduce new technologies to the buying public? You go to a demonstration, of course. Or perhaps a state or county fair. I remember getting “lost” in my car on the concourse of the Iowa State Fair, the victim of a wrong turn that landed me in the middle of hundreds of people walking the main fairway. I imagine the National Tractor Demonstration in Fremont, Nebraska in 1916 was similar, though with few automobiles. The Fremont show was one of six, working its way through the heartland. Fremont was a big deal. On Wednesday, Henry Ford day, visitors saw the debut of the Fordson tractor. Only it wasn’t the Fordson yet, only a tractor built by THE Henry Ford. He had promised one in 1908, and even sent a picture to the Farm Implement News, which noted that he was “said to be quite enthusiastic over the subject.” But something else happened that year, and he became distracted. Something about a car if I remember.

Like everyone else in Fremont, I suppose I would have been distracted by the Ford tractor. But mostly I would have been fighting the thongs of people trying to catch a glimpse. How often did someone that famous come to Fremont? If I were a farmer, I would have considered it a bit of vindication to see arguably the most famous man in the world walking the grounds of a tractor demonstration. And once the celebrity passed, the demonstrations of farm tractors must have been a sight to see and a sound to hear. Would I have been amazed by what I saw? Or would I have been threatened by the untested and unproven technologies that my parents and grandparents lived without?

Fordsons on exhibit, circa 1921-1922. National Photo Company collection, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-npcc-30348

I like to think I would have been a “progressive” farmer, anxiously waiting for the machine that would revolutionize my farm.

So next time you walk the grounds of the Farm Progress Show, the National Farm Machinery Show, or your state or county fair (I hope in 2021), think about Fremont, Nebraska, or Madison, Wisconsin, or any of the other sites that hosted one of the six National Tractor Demonstrations of 1916. Surely, you’re seeing something for the first time. Take it in—you might just be seeing history.