Year
1849

John Froelich, inventor of the gas-powered tractor, is born

John Froelich, the inventor of the first internal-combustion traction motor, or tractor, is born on this day in Girard, Iowa.

At the end of the 19th century, Froelich operated a grain elevator and mobile threshing service: Every year at harvest time, he dragged a crew of hired hands and a heavy steam-powered thresher through Iowa and the Dakotas, threshing farmers’ crops for a fee. His machine was bulky, hard to transport and expensive to use, and it was also dangerous: One spark from the boiler on a windy day could set the whole prairie afire. So, in 1890, Froelich decided to try something new: Instead of that cumbersome, hazardous steam engine, he and his blacksmith mounted a one-cylinder gasoline engine on his steam engine’s running gear and set off for a nearby field to see if it worked.

It did: Froelich’s tractor chugged along safely at three miles per hour. But the real test came when Froelich and his team took their new machine out on their annual threshing tour, and it was a success there, too: Using just 26 gallons of gas, they threshed more than a thousand bushels of grain every day (72,000 bushels in all). What’s more, they did it without starting a single fire.

In 1894, Froelich and eight investors formed the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company. They built four prototype tractors and sold two (though both were soon returned). To make money, the company branched out into stationary engines (its first one powered a printing press at the Waterloo Courier newspaper). Froelich was more interested in farming equipment than engines more generally, however, and he left the company in 1895.

Waterloo kept working on its tractor designs, but between 1896 and 1914 it sold just 20 tractors in all. In 1914, the company introduced its first Waterloo Boy Model “R” single-speed tractor, which sold very well: 118 in 1914 alone. The next year, its two-speed Model “N” was even more successful. In 1918, the John Deere plow-manufacturing company bought Waterloo for $2,350,000.

The Waterloo Tractor Works, still owned by John Deere, remains one of the largest tractor factories in the United States.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Jack Ruby kills Lee Harvey Oswald

At 12:20 p.m., in the basement of the Dallas police station, Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy, is shot to death by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner. On November 22, President Kennedy was fatally shot while riding in an open-car motorcade ...read more

Irish author and nationalist executed

Robert Erskine Childers, a popular Irish author and member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is shot to death by an Irish Free State firing squad after being convicted of carrying a revolver. He had been one of the leaders, along with Eamon de Valera, of the Republican forces ...read more

Hijacker parachutes into thunderstorm

A hijacker calling himself D.B. Cooper parachutes from a Northwest Orient Airlines 727 into a raging thunderstorm over Washington State. He had $200,000 in ransom money in his possession. Cooper commandeered the aircraft shortly after takeoff, showing a flight attendant something ...read more

Origin of Species is published

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, a groundbreaking scientific work by British naturalist Charles Darwin, is published in England. Darwin’s theory argued that organisms gradually evolve through a process he called “natural selection.” In natural selection, ...read more

U.S. casualty rates hit new high

U.S. casualty statistics reflect the intensified fighting in the Ia Drang Valley and other parts of the Central Highlands. In their first significant contacts, U.S. forces and North Vietnamese regulars fought a series of major battles in the Highlands that led to high casualties ...read more

U.S. Army announces Calley will be tried

U.S. Army officials announce 1st Lt. William Calley will be court-martialed for the premeditated murder of 109 Vietnamese civilians at My Lai. In Washington, Army Secretary Stanley Resor and Army Chief of Staff William C. Westmoreland announced the appointment of Lt. Gen. William ...read more

LBJ to continue Kennedy policy in Vietnam

Two days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon B. Johnson confirms the U.S. intention to continue military and economic support to South Vietnam. He instructed Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, in Washington for consultations following South Vietnamese ...read more

Wilt Chamberlain sets NBA rebounds record

On November 24, 1960, Philadelphia Warrior Wilt Chamberlain snags 55 rebounds in a game against the Boston Celtics and sets an NBA record for the most rebounds in a single game. The seven-foot-one-inch Chamberlain–often called “Wilt the Stilt,” a nickname he detested, or “The Big ...read more

Zachary Taylor is born

On this day in 1784, future President Zachary Taylor is born in Barboursville, Virginia. The American Revolution had been over barely a year when Taylor, a distant relative of founding father and America’s fourth president, James Madison, was born. He grew up on his ...read more

Origin of Species is published

On this day, Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, which immediately sold out its initial print run. By 1872, the book had run through six editions, and it became one of the ...read more

Robin Williams stars in Mrs. Doubtfire

On this day in 1993, Mrs. Doubtfire, starring Robin Williams as a divorced father who disguises himself as an elderly British nanny in order to spend time with his children, opens in theaters. Directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone) and based on a 1987 novel by Anne Fine titled ...read more

Ferry sinks in Yellow Sea, killing hundreds

A ferry sinks in the Yellow Sea off the coast of China, killing hundreds of people on this day in 1999. The ship had caught fire while in the midst of a storm and nearly everyone on board perished, including the captain. The Dashun, a 9,000-ton vessel, was transporting passengers ...read more

The FBI Crime Lab opens its doors for business

The crime lab that is now referred to as the FBI Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory officially opens in Washington, D.C., on this day in 1932.The lab, which was chosen because it had the necessary sink, operated out of a single room and had only one full-time employee, Agent ...read more

Battle of Lookout Mountain

On this day in 1863, Union troops capture Lookout Mountain southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee,as they begin to break the Confederate siege of the city. In the “battle above the clouds,” the Yankees scaled the slopes of the mountain on the periphery of the Chattanooga lines. For ...read more