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.


The company then decided to manufacture stationary gas engines to provide income while their tractor experiments continued.

Waterloo Becomes Incorporated In 1895 the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company was incorporated.


Froelich, whose interest was in tractors, not stationary engines, chose to withdraw from the company.


Around 1895, John left Froelich, Iowa, and settled in Marshalltown, Iowa, and then moved to St. Paul, Minnesota. He later developed a new type of clothes washing machine that he called the Froelich Neostyle Washer.


The Waterloo Company continued to build stationary engines while they tried to improve the tractor.


In 1913 the model “L-A” was made.

Success and the Birth of the Tractor Industry

In 1914 the first Waterloo Boy Tractor, the Model “R” single-speed tractor, was introduced. Farmers liked it. Within a year --- sales reached 118. When the Model “N” Waterloo Boy with two forward speeds was introduced --- it was also successful. During World War I, with the rise of farm prices, and the demand for dependable mechanical farm power --- the concept of the tractor became so popular, that in a matter of months many tractor manufacturers opened up. Deere and Company in Moline, Illinois, manufacturer of a full line of John Deere implements, had been watching the progress of the Waterloo Engine Company and the increasing quality of its products. Since Deere was looking for an established farm tractor to round out its line --- it was decided that here was an organization with many years of experience – a company that knew what farmers wanted – and what it took to build a good tractor.

John Deere Purchase In 1918, the Waterloo Company was purchased by John Deere.


With the birth of John Froelich’s “hybrid” --- through many years of trial --- the Waterloo Tractor Works had grown steadily. Today it is one of the largest tractor-producing plants in the nation. For his contribution, John Froelich will always be remembered and the village of Froelich, Iowa boasts the name “Tractor Town U.S.A.”

Froelich Tractor Museum

Come to the Froelich Tractor Museum in Froelich, Iowa --- and you can see a scale model of the original “Froelich Tractor” made from the original blueprints on display in the General Store.

There is another on display in the Blacksmith shop.


Read the dedication on the monument erected in 1939. Stroll through the 1890s Froelich village museum site. Tour the 1866, one-room Froelich school #5, the 1891 General Store & Post Office, the Freight Warehouse, Blacksmith Shop, Railroad Depot, Semi building, and the old Barn. Step back in time and enjoy.


Hopefully, this brief article has helped you understand the importance of John Froelich and his contribution to the production of the modern gasoline-powered tractor.


If you need any further help or have any questions about equipment history, tractors, implements, or anything else equipment-related, please contact your dealer, local mechanic, or call us at 602-734-9944. Please ask about our current new and used tractor supply.


If you are looking for old, vintage, classic, or new tractor parts, send us a part request.


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