Iowa Town Honors Native Son Inventor of the Farm Tractor

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FROELICH, Iowa -- Iowa is known for manufacturing tractors and farm equipment, but many may not realize the first ever tractor was invented in Iowa.

The tiny northeast Iowa town of Froelich was the home of John Froelich, who first created the gasoline powered tractor. The inventor’s name and the town is pronounced “Fray-lick.”

“Froelich found a need for an improvement over steam power threshing machines,” said Denise Schutte, executive director of the Froelich Foundation and Museum. “He was able to take gasoline and use that for creating the power for the tractor.”

The need was for a smaller unit to power threshing on farms. The current method at the time was huge steam engines. After Froelich came up with this new technology, he took it to South Dakota, where he did extensive work for farmers using his invention.

“Then he came back and started up the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company,” said Schutte. “The Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company was purchased by the John Deere tractor company in 1918.”

Froelich was a very inventive man, earning at least 14 patents for things he invented in his lifetime.

“He even created a small countertop dishwasher and dryer for washing dishes and drying them long before anybody ever thought of such. He also created a washing machine,” said Schutte. “He was a very creative man. He was always looking for finding a better way.”

The last weekend in September, the town of Froelich honors the famous inventor with Fall-Der-All, a community celebration. This features a working model of the Froelich tractor and other mechanical displays, including a blacksmith shop.

The Froelich Tractor Museum is open in the summer into September and the first two weekends in October.

If you would like more information on the Froelich Tractor Museum, click here.

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