The Massey Deere

John Deere enthusiasts like to point with pride to the fact that it is the only major, full line U.S. farm equipment company that hasn’t gone bankrupt, been acquired, merged or now exists as only a small part of some conglomerate’s list of assets. A popular flow chart of such companies shows Deere as one long green line (no pun intended), while every other company’s has lines that have more branches than a cedar tree.

Of course, this ad leaves out a few things. Through the 19th century, Deere did acquire a few small companies and most likely none of us would be reading this magazine if it weren’t for the folks in Moline making nice with a pretty good sized for the time tractor builder in Waterloo, Iowa.

However, today let’s talk about one of the deals that was talked about but didn’t happen, that being the merger of John Deere and Massey Ferguson.

Massey Ferguson can trace its beginning to Daniel Massey, who opened a small blacksmith shop in Ontario to repair and build plows (sound kind of familiar?). Seven years later, he bought a factory and began producing harrows, cultivators and other small implements. Alanson Harris was a disgruntled farmer, also from Ontario, who enjoyed inventing and building machinery to make a farmer’s life easier. He, too, built a small factory and by 1882, 40 percent of the farm machinery sold in Canada was built by either Massey or Harris. In 1891, the two companies merged to become Massey-Harris.

In 1928, Massey-Harris purchased the Case Plow Works, which should never be confused with J.I. Case Thresher Company, even though they were both founded by the same man. Massey-Harris was now in the tractor business because, in 1919, Case Plow had purchased Wallis Tractor Company. The Wallis tractors were soon rebranded as Massey-Harris and became one of the top selling brands in North America.

In 1953, Massey-Harris merged with Harry Ferguson’s company, which had just settled a messy lawsuit over its broken relationship with Ford. While Massey’s sales overseas had made it one of the first truly multi-national companies, operations in the United States were lagging behind. As in almost every marriage, there were problems. Duplication in manufacturing and product lines as well as distribution had to be worked out. For a while, some advocated three different types of dealerships, some Massey, some Ferguson and some a combination.

In 1955, before any of this was settled, Massey president James Duncan approached Deere about merging the two companies. In some areas, such a deal made sense for Deere. Deere had been attempting to expand internationally and here was a chance to have a ready-made overseas distribution and manufacturing system. It also helped Deere in the western part of the United States, where Massey had strong dealerships and where Deere’s partnership with Caterpillar was beginning to dissolve.

However, there were also a myriad of possible problems. Starting at the top, it would not have been easy to merge the two groups of officers, directors, engineers, etcetera. There also might have been an adverse reaction to one of Canada’s most prominent corporations being taken over by an American firm. Distribution and dealerships would have had major overlaps, especially in an era when most every town with a population of over 1,000 had some sort of farm implement dealership.

A question that probably comes to mind for us collectors is—what about the product lines? By 1955, Deere was already knee deep into the development of the New Generation tractors, but since Massey was already selling multi-cylinder tractors, would it have had an influence on the new design? What about combines? Both Massey and Deere were selling popular combines, though very different in design. Whose would have won out? Surely there would have been some wailing and gnashing of teeth in the engineering and sales department.

Two meetings were held between officials of the two companies, but the possible problems for Deere seemed to far out balance the benefits of quickly becoming an international company.

I would imagine that for us collectors, it is best that the merger never took place though it is hard to say for certain what might have happened.