Harry Ferguson was born on 4th
November 1884 in Lake House at Growell near the town of Dromore
County Down one of a family of eleven, from his early boyhood he
showed exceptional mechanical aptitude. At the age of 14 he left
school to work on the family 100 acre farm, after a period on
the farm Harry considered the possibility of emigrating to Canada,
in fact he had all the paper work in hand to do so. His elder brother
Joe had served an apprenticeship with Combe Barbour, Linen Spinners,
Joe set up his own business in the Autumn of 1901 on the Shankill
Road as a car and cycle repair shop, in 1902 Harry joined his brother
in the business, which became very successful.It was at this time
that harry met T. McGregor Greer, a well to do landowner from Tullylagen,
Co. Tyrone, Harry made many visits to the Tyrone estate to tune
Harry met and fell in love with
a young Dromore woman Maureen Watson, the daughter of a grocer in
the town, unfortunately Harry's brother Joe had designs on the same
lady, this perhaps led to friction between the brothers and they
parted company, although Harry won the lady's hand, despite objections
from her parents who were Brethren, the religion in which Harry
himself had been brought up, although he rejected it, declaring
himself agnostic, the couple were married in Newry Registry Office.
By 1911 he had his own business
'May Street Motor Co' in Belfast backed by his friend McGregor Greer
of Tyrone Within a year the company name was changed to Harry Ferguson
Motors. He became the distributor for Austin Cars in Northern Ireland
and the business later moved to Donegal Square East in Belfast,
near the City Hall.
Being from a farming background
he understandably turned his attention to mechanizing agriculture
and the development of the motor tractor, seeing it as a replacement
for the horse on Irish farms, his greatest achievement was undoubtedly
the hydraulic lift system at the rear of the tractor enabling the
attached implement to be raised and maintained at any height.
His innovative designs soon
came to the attention of American industrialist Henry Ford. Ferguson
preferred to set up his own US business, which he did in 1926, although
a commercial arrangement was reached with Ford in 1938, this was
more a gentlemen's agreement rather than something more formal.
Soon Fordson tractors with Ferguson hydraulics were being sold on
both sides of the Atlantic and many other countries across the world.
The partnership endure for ten
years ending in litigation, beginning in 1948 the case continued
until 1956, one of the longest law suits in history, Ferguson emerged
the victor being awarded several million pounds damages. After this
Harry became involved with the Massey Engineering Company, this
association eventually led to the formation of the Massey Ferguson
Company, a name which was to become known the world over.
Ferguson's main manufacturing
plant was in Coventry, England,
to be near it he and his wife bought a large estate Abbotswood.
Ferguson had many influential friends one of which was Christopher
Soames son in law of Winston Churchill, Soames was a frequent visitor
to Abbotswood, once Harry demonstrated one of his tractors to Winston
Churchill the then prime minister.
Harry retired from business
in 1953, he made many visit to his native county Down visiting his
friends and former colleagues. A story related to me by the late
Peter Fitzpatrick, of Fitzpatrick's bar in Maghera County Down,
according to Peter a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce stopped outside
the bar, the passenger came in and asked if he could have a look
at the nearby water driven corn mill, the man was none other than
Harry Ferguson, who even in his declining years still had a keen
interest in all things mechanical.
While Ferguson name will forever
be associated with the tractor, he also had a keen interest in aviation,
holding the distinction of making the first powered flight in Ireland,
a replica of the plane he accomplished this in is on display in
the Ulster Folk and Transport at Cultra County Down, the replica
was made by the late Leslie Hanna of Newcastle a boatbuilder by
trade, a gentleman and an exceptional craftsman.