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Introducing John Froelich - the Father of the Gasoline-powered Tractor

We want to help you learn about John Froelich and how he invented the gasoline-powered tractor.

And as a quick aside --- we are here to help you purchase a new tractor and implements when the time is right.

Let’s get started.

Who Is John Froelich?

John Froelich (November 24, 1849 – May 24, 1933) was an American inventor who lived in Froelich, Iowa, a small village in northeast Iowa (which was named for his father).

He attended school in Galena, Illinois, and later at the College of Iowa.

In Iowa, he learned a lot about machinery. After college, he decided that he would build the very first gasoline-powered tractor to go both forward and reverse.

The word “tractor” wasn’t used in those days. But that is what they were going to work on. At that time --- steam-powered engines were used to thresh wheat.

John Froelich was familiar with that equipment. In fact, every fall he took a crew of men to Langford, South Dakota to work in the fields. Froelich was frustrated with the problems associated with steam engines. They were heavy, bulky, and difficult to maneuver.

They were always threatening to set fire to the grain and stubble in the fields – and on a flat prairie, with a blowing wind --- that was serious.

The Better Way

Froelich felt that he could invent a better way to power the engine.

The solution was gasoline.

In 1892, Froelich and Will Mann (his blacksmith) came up a vertical, one-cylinder, 16-horsepower engine that was mounted on the running gear of a steam traction engine. This was a hybrid of their own making. They designed many new parts to make it all fit together --- and it was finally done. A few weeks later Froelich and his crew started for the broad fields of South Dakota with the “tractor” and a new J.I. Case threshing machine.

That fall they used 26 gallons of gasoline and threshed 72,000 bushels of small grain. The tractor was a success. Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company Later that fall John Froelich shipped his “tractor” to Waterloo, Iowa to show it to some businessmen.

The men formed a company to manufacture the “Froelich Tractor.”

They named the company “The Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company” and made John Froelich the president. Efforts to sell the practical gasoline-powered tractor failed. Two were sold and then shortly returned.