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Langford Smithy Helped Build First Tractor

May 4, 2011

Many agricultural innovations have come from South Dakota. Farmers have equipment they believe can be improved, and with a little tinkering there's a brand new product. Norman Olson, a Langford native, writes to us from Colorado this week to tell us about Will Mann, a Day County homesteader and mechanic who helped build the world's first successful gasoline-powered tractor.

Mann worked with John Froelich, from Iowa. Froelich brought a threshing crew to Langford every year, and became intrigued by the problems his straw-burning, steam-powered rig presented. It was dangerous to burn straw in strong Dakota winds with little available water, so Froelich started tinkering with a gas-powered substitute.

In 1892, Froelich and a team of inventors including Mann finished a tractor that could move forward and backward. They used it to power a thresher, then brought it to Day County for 52 days of harvest that fall.

Unfortunately Froelich and Mann were ahead of their time. Froelich started a tractor company, but his new invention didn't catch on until long after he left the company.                                       

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