Harry Ferguson was born in Growell, sixteen miles from Belfast on 4th November 1884. Ferguson was born into a strict Protestant family of Scottish descent, a farming family who had farmed in County Down for several generations. Ferguson was the fourth child to James and Mary Ferguson, his parents having eleven children in total.
Leaving school at fourteen, Ferguson worked initially on his parents farm, staying there for a total of four years. He didn't take to farming and left in 1902 to become an apprentice mechanic in his eldest brother's firm. Joe the oldest brother had set up a small repair shop for motor cars and cycles, called J.B.Ferguson, the shop was situated in Belfast. Harry Ferguson took to his apprenticeship and showed a natural aptitude for tuning engines.
By 1904, Ferguson was entering various motor car and cycle races, this both vented a new found passion for racing, and also helped promote the business. By 1908, Ferguson had designed a monoplane, this was fitted with a V8 engine and developed 35HP. On 31st December 1909, Ferguson flew the monoplane 130 yards, thus making him the first aviator to build and fly his own plane, and also the first man to make a powered flight in Ireland.
Meanwhile there were disagreements between Ferguson and his brother Joe, who felt that such stunts in cars, cycles and aeroplanes were a waste of time. The disagreements were probably more personal as both brothers were trying to court the same local girl. It was time for Harry Ferguson to strike out on his own.
In 1911, Ferguson left his brother's employment and set up his own garage in May Street, Belfast. This was made possible by the financial support of two friends, one of which was a local landowner. The garage was initially called May Street Motors, but was changed to Harry Ferguson Ltd during 1912. His new garage acted as agents for Maxwell, Star and Vauxhall makes, it wasn't long before Harry Ferguson Ltd was achieving a good rate of sales. In part the racing that Ferguson had taken part in had made a bit of a name for him within the local community, this must have elevated sales.
Although there had been the disagreements between Harry Ferguson and his brother, their relationship improved after he left. In fact the two brothers collaborated on a project to build a car with minimum maintenance. The car was affectionately called the 'Fergus' and was based on Vauxhall running gear.
With the start of the First World War, the call up had seriously deprived farms of both men and horses. There was an urgent need for agricultural mechanisation and Ferguson was ready to take up the challenge. He acted as an agent for the American company Waterloo Boy Tractors, which were being sold in Great Britain under the Overtime name. Ferguson initialised a series of demonstrations showing the Overtime working with a Canadian three furrow cockshutt plough. The demonstrations brought Ferguson to the attention of the Irish Board of Agriculture, who in turn asked him to tour Ireland on its behalf. During Spring 1917, Ferguson travelled around Ireland for the Board of Agriculture, instructing farmers on the correct operation of their tractors and ploughs, no doubt picking up some business for himself at the same time.
The demonstrations highlighted to Ferguson obvious failings with the tractors and their equipment. Ferguson set about designing a plough that operated as an integral part of the tractor. The first 'Ferguson Plough' appeared in December 1917. The following year Ferguson started designing a plough for the Fordson.
By 1919 an advanced version of the plough was designed to fit the Fordson, which by this time was being manufactured at the new Ford plant at Cork.
In a bold move, Ferguson travelled to America to meet Henry Ford, in an attempt tp persuade Ford to manufacture the new plough in America. The meeting did not go as intended, Ford simply offered Ferguson a job; which was declined; and then offered to buy the plough patents, this was also declined and Ferguson returned to Ireland.
Ford And Ferguson
Further refining of the plough eventually led Ferguson to enter into a business agreement with Eber & George Sherman in America, they were the American distributors of Fordson and agreed to manufacture the plough. At long last some returns were coming back to Ferguson for his research and patenting of plough systems.
By 1928, Ferguson's motor business had become quite successful, however the plough business wasn't going so well. Designed to solely fit the Fordson Model F tractor, Ford had decided to end production. Although Ferguson approached other tractor manufacturers, none were willing to commit themselves. Ferguson was left with the decision to build his own tractor. Drawings for a Ferguson tractor evolved during 1932 and a protottype assembled during 1933.
David Brown & Sons Ltd were a long established engineering firm. Brown had been impressed by a demonstration of the Ferguson tractor and entered into an agreement with Ferguson to manufacture the tractors. David Brown Tractors Ltd was created for the purpose.
The prototype tractor had been painted black, this was considered to austere, Ferguson decided that the production tractors should be painted in a battleship grey. The 'little grey Fergie' was about to make its debut.
By the later 1930's Harry Ferguson Ltd had started to run into financial difficulties. The company merged with David Brown Tractors Ltd, with Brown and Ferguson as joint Managing Directors.
The Ferguson - Brown alliance wasn't a particularly happy one. By 1938 the partnership was at breaking point. Ferguson travelled to America once again to see Henry Ford and this time managed to secure a deal for Ford to build a Ferguson tractor in the USA.
On 1st February 1939 Ferguson - Brown Ltd was changed back to David Brown Tractors Ltd. Brown would carry on his own line of tractors.
The Ford 9N tractor, often referred as the 'Ford Ferguson', went into production with Ford and had evolved from the Ferguson Type A, that had been built by Brown to Ferguson's design. The 9N bore the Ford badge and a plaque underneath stating 'Ferguson System', this plaque was to satisfy Ferguson. Ironically issues over badging would take place much later on the Jensen FF.
Back in Ireland and with the outbreak of the Second World War, Ferguson's motor business was left with no cars to sell. This part of Ferguson's company immediately moved into armaments manufacture. Ferguson remained in America distributing the 'Ford Ferguson'.
Harry & Henry introduce the new 9N
By 1945 Ford's son, Henry Ford II, took control of the company. Ford senior had been unwell and the company had been losing money. In an effort to control losses, Ford II announced in November 1946 that the company was terminating its agreement with Ferguson, a further announcement stated that their tractor production would only be distributed through Ford. Ferguson was furious, and things got worse when Ford II brought out a new tractor, the '8N', which was controversially stated as having a new 'Ford Hydraulic System'. The system was the same as the 'Ferguson System' apart from a few very minor changes.
Ferguson was left with an American distribution organisation and no tractors to sell. In January 1948 Ferguson filed a lawsuit against the Ford Motor Company for alleged ruination of Fergusons' business and also patent infringement. The claim was for $251 million in damages and costs. The legal battle was prolonged and lasted until April 1952, when Ford agreed to pay an out of court settlement of $9.25 million and also to stop using Ferguson patents.
In private Ferguson was disappointed with the settlement, however much publicity had been generated from the court case, which would assist his latest project - a Ferguson tractor manufacturing company based in Coventry, England.
A new alliance had been made with Sir John Black, the Managing Director of the Standard Motor Company. An agreement was signed on 20th August 1946, with the Standard Motor Company agreeing to manufacture Ferguson tractors for an initial period of ten years. Ferguson set up an independent company to undertake marketing, design, research and development of the tractor and associated implements.
Ferguson left America and purchased a mansion near Stow-on-the-Wold in Oxfordshire, England. The mansion named Abbotswood was set in 600 acres of grounds and was within easy commuting distance of the tractor factory. The new Ferguson tractor was designated the 'TE-20'. The letters signifying 'Tractor-England' and the '20', the approximate horsepower. The first demonstration of the tractor was held in September 1946. The 'TE-20' was hugely successful, and by 1949 over 100,000 had been manufactured.
The success of the tractor was not only due to its excellent design. Ferguson had set up an excellent dealer network and gave well prepared demonstrations. Harry Ferguson Ltd even ran its own sales & service training schools, to train dealer personnel, and in 1949 the Ferguson School of Mechanical Farming was established.
During 1953, Ferguson decided to sell out to Massey-Harris. The meeting with Massey-Harris's President James Duncan took place at Abbotswood. The agreement reached stated that Ferguson would receive $16 million worth of Massey-Harris shares in exchange for the operating Ferguson companies.
By the time Ferguson was deciding to sell to Massey-Harris, he had tractor related interests in many countries. It would seem that during the closing stages of the deal that lawyers putting together the agreement had left out Ferguson's interests in France. He was due another $1 million, however Duncan was already at his limits with the offer of $16 million. Ferguson not wishing the whole deal to fall through, put forward to Duncan that they toss a coin over the $1 million, Duncan agreed and Ferguson lost. On the 17th August 1953 Massey-Harris and Harry Ferguson Ltd merged as 'Massey-Harris-Ferguson Ltd'. Duncan offered Ferguson the position of Chairman of the Board. Sir John Black meanwhile, had concerns that their contract to manufacture tractors would be renewed. Black met with Duncan and the outcome was a new agreement for a further twelve years manufacturing contract.
Once again relationship problems developed, this time between Ferguson and Duncan, especially over the pricing structures of tractors. On the 7th July 1954, Ferguson resigned from Massey-Harris Ferguson Ltd.
Ferguson was almost seventy when he retired from Massey-Harris-Ferguson Ltd, he had already started a new company 'Harry Ferguson Research Ltd in April 1950, with the idea of creating a safe family car with a four-wheel-drive system. His passion for motor vehicles had been re-kindled during 1948, when he agreed to back the development of a four-wheel-drive vehicle nicknamed the 'crab'. The design had been put together by racing drivers, Freddie Dixon and Tony Rolt, they joined Ferguson's new company as joint Directors.
As the 'crab' project progressed, Ferguson brought in Claude Hill, an ex-Aston Martin engineer, to join the team at Redhill in Surrey. Dixon felt that Ferguson was taking over the whole project, became disillusioned and left Harry Ferguson Research Lts shortly after its conception.
The original Dixon/Rolt 'crab' design was basically discarded and a prototype 'R2' four-wheel-drive vehicle created, an 'R3' with further improvements quickly followed. Various advanced safety features included a hydraulic torque converter mated to a normal gearbox allowing a semi-automatic transmission along with the Ferguson-Maxaret anti-lock braking system developed with Dunlop.
Ferguson R4 1956
Ferguson R5 1962
Ferguson became actively involved in the 'R' projects after resigning from Massey-Harris-Ferguson Ltd, and was to oversee the 'R4' prototype, which was completed in 1954. By July 1956, the company moved from Redhill to Toll End Bar in Coventry.
The 'R5' Estate prototype was completed in 1959, it was with this car that Ferguson hoped to get a major car manufacture interested to take on the rights. Unfortunately for Ferguson no manufacture seemed interested to take up a four-wheel-drive system. Richard Jensen, one of the brothers of Jensen Motors Ltd had taken an interest in the 'R5' project, although no agreement was reached, Jensen maintained contact with Harry Ferguson.
Ferguson was still unable to detach himself from the tractors that he had so long been associated with. In 1960 a division of Harry Ferguson Research Ltd was created, Harry Ferguson Tractor Research Ltd. Their brief was to build a new light weight tractor incorporating the hydraulic torque converter. Meanwhile Ferguson began the development of a four-wheel-drive racing car code-named 'Project 99'.
On the 25th October 1960, Ferguson suddenly collapsed and died. He would not see the debut of the 'P99' or indeed his dream of a four-wheel-drive system incorporated into a production car.
The 'P99' made its debut at Silverstone on the 8th July 1961 and later won the Oulton Park Gold Cup Race with Stirling Moss at the wheel. Immense publicity followed the 'P99' win and Harry Ferguson Research Ltd received various enquiries about their four-wheel-drive system. An unofficial agreement had already been reached between Ferguson and Jensen, resulting in the two companies working together to perfect the system for production. It would take until 1964 before Jensen Motors and Harry Ferguson Research signed a formal agreement.
In 2008 a statue of Harry Ferguson was unvieled at his birthplace (unvieling took place on 16.8.2008) and a Northern Ireland ?20 bank note was released with an engraving of a Ferguson tractor and a portrait of Harry Ferguson.