Ferguson, Harry

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b. 4 November 1884 County Down, Ireland
d. 25 October 1960 England
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Irish engineer who developed a tractor hydraulic system for cultivation equipment, and thereby revolutionized tractor design.
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Ferguson's father was a small farmer who expected his son to help on the farm from an early age. As a result he received little formal education, and on leaving school joined his brother in a backstreet workshop in Belfast repairing motor bikes. By the age of 19 he had built his own bike and began hill-climbing competitions and racing. His successes in these ventures gained useful publicity for the workshop. In 1907 he built his own car and entered it into competitions, and in 1909 became the first person in Britain to build and fly a machine that was heavier than air.
On the outbreak of the First World War he was appointed by the Irish Department of Agriculture to supervise the operation and maintenance of all farm tractors. His experiences convinced him that even the Ford tractor and the implements available for it were inadequate for the task, and he began to experiment with his own plough designs. The formation of the Ferguson-Sherman Corporation resulted in the production of thousands of the ploughs he had designed for the Ford tractor, but in 1928 Ford discontinued production of tractors, and Ferguson returned to Ireland. He immediately began to design his own tractor. Six years of development led to the building of a prototype that weighed only 16 cwt (813kg). In 1936 David Brown of Huddersfield, Yorkshire, began production of these tractors for Ferguson, but the partnership was not wholly successful and was dissolved after three years. In 1939 Ferguson and Ford reached their famous "Handshake agreement", in which no formal contract was signed, and the mass production of the Ford Ferguson system tractors began that year. During the next nine years 300,000 tractors and a million implements were produced under this agreement. However, on the death of Henry Ford the company began production, under his son, of their own tractor. Ferguson returned to the UK and negotiated a deal with the Standard Motor Company of Coventry for the production of his tractor. At the same time he took legal action against Ford, which resulted in that company being forced to stop production and to pay damages amounting to US$9.5 million.
Aware that his equipment would only operate when set up properly, Ferguson established a training school at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire which was to be a model for other manufacturers. In 1953, by amicable agreement, Ferguson amalgamated with the Massey Harris Company to form Massey Ferguson, and in so doing added harvesting machinery to the range of equipment produced. A year later he disposed of his shares in the new company and turned his attention again to the motor car. Although a number of experimental cars were produced, there were no long-lasting developments from this venture other than a four-wheel-drive system based on hydraulics; this was used by a number of manufacturers on occasional models. Ferguson's death heralded the end of these developments.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Honorary DSc Queen's University, Belfast, 1948.
Further Reading
C.Murray, 1972, Harry Ferguson, Inventor and Pioneer. John Murray.
AP

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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