Poor Paul Ford

No, not Bill Ford, the “coward” that shot Jessie James. And no, not Henry Ford, or even a relation, at least not directly. He was just Paul Ford, trying to make his way. He was recently married, with two young children, living in Minneapolis. Imagine his good fortune when the young electrician was approached about a partnership in an upstart farm tractor business. He had something they needed.

The Ford tractor scheme was the brainchild of W. Baer Ewing, a serial entrepreneur dodging creditors and looking for the next sure-thing. The Ford name was just that.

According to Classic Tractor TV, Ewing bought his design from the Lion Tractor Company, then enticed Paul B. Ford to lend his name to the company. The circumstances or unclear. Was Ford part of the project from the start? Was it his idea? Or was he simply found in the city directory (an early version of a phone book) and recruited for his name?

Newspaper ad for the Ford Model “C” 10-20, October 1916

The three-wheel tractor put out by the Ford Tractor Company was unique in appearance. But how did an entrepreneur and an electrical engineer secure a design, raise enough capital, and begin selling tractors? Was the Ford tractor the design created by Daniel Hartsough after the Bull (and the Big Four “30” and sold to the Lion Tractor Company?

So many questions.

“The Famous Ford Tractors,” were available by the summer of 1915. It was “The Machine the World has been waiting for,” advertising claimed. Its first tractor, the Ford Model B, was sold in July, and a year-and-a-half later the company claimed tractors “in successful operation” in thirty-seven states. They were in the process of raising $10 million through a public stock offering. The Ford Model B sold for $495, and in time, would have long-lasting implications for the industry, but not because it performed so well. Infamous might be a better description as the result of the company’s deceptions and the tractor’s failures.

A circa 1916 Ford Tractor Company advertising film is available from Classic Tractor Fever.

At the National Tractor Demonstration in Fremont, Nebraska in 1916, sales manager C.M. DeVeau and president W.Baer Ewing demonstrated their new Ford 8-16 tractor. There must have been a wave of disappointment for many when the Famous Ford Tractor arrived minus Henry Ford. And surely Henry Ford, who was there with a full entourage to debut his Fordson tractor for the first time, was not amused.

It’s been written that Henry Ford tried to prevent the use of the Ford name on the tractor. That may be true. But the Ford Motor Company had also stopped Henry Ford’s use of the name. His board prevented him from investing resources into tractor design and production, forcing him to incorporate a new company, Henry Ford & Son, to achieve his lifelong dream to eliminate drudgery on the farm.

Paul B. Ford had the good fortune of missing the show. It seems he had been dismissed by the company in June 1916. He was clearly a pawn. Proprietor W. Baer Ewing, on the other hand, deserves plenty of scrutiny. Ewing and partner Robert Matches were indicted by a New York grand jury in 1917, and the Ford Tractor Company was officially out of business.  

Paul Ford, a husband and father of three (a girl was born in 1918), returned to the life he probably never really left, working as a home electrician. But he did leave one legacy. The Ford tractors that carried his name helped lead to the creation of the Nebraska Tractor Test in 1920. The law required that all tractors sold in Nebraska to be tested under standard conditions to prevent fraud, and was the first major effort to regulate the farm tractor.