Waterloo Boy: A brief history of the first gas powered tractor company

10/30/2015 9:44:50 AM by

Can you imagine threshing crops by hand, with horses or with steam powered devices? No? Well, John Froelich couldn't either.

John Froelich was born in the northeastern part of Iowa in 1849. By the time he started farming, steam powered engines where the primary tool used to thresh wheat. Every fall he'd take a crew to South Dakota to work the fields, but became frustrated with the devices. They were heavy, difficult to maneuver and often caused fires.

It was clear that they had to go, but he needed something that could thresh at the same or better pace than what he already had. The answer was gas powered machines.

Froelich and his blacksmith Will Mann took the frame of one of their steam tractors and created a new one cylinder engine, designing many of the parts from scratch to make everything fit together. That fall they were able to thresh 72,000 bushels of small grain. Their machine's production dwarfed anything the old steam powered engines could do.

Later that year, Froelich sent his tractor to businessmen in Waterloo, Iowa. There, they formed the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company to manufacture and sell the "Froelich Tractor," with Froelich himself serving as president.

Unfortunately, initial efforts to sell the tractor flopped. To weather the rough patch they were going through, the company made stationary gas engines. Even though Froelich would leave the company in 1895, Waterloo would work for years to perfect what he'd started.

It wasn't until 1911 that Waterloo, now known as the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company, began making tractors again. In 1913, the company had small scale success with their new tractor, the Waterloo Boy. A year later, the Model R Waterloo Boy was released, and the company sold over 8,000 units before it was discontinued in 1918.

The popularity, quality and stability of the Waterloo Boy caught the eye of a competitor from an Illinois based manufacturer, Deere and Company. In 1918, Deere bought Waterloo and rebranded as the John Deere Tractor Company. Though the company would only keep the Waterloo name through 1923, they chose to adopt their green and yellow color scheme. The company still uses those colors today.

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Froelich and his blacksmith Will Mann created the first gas powered tractor in the mid 1800s.