The Graham-Bradley tractor
August 13, 2007
The Great Depression of the 1930s impacted America immeasurably. This devastating period touched the lives of all Americans. The American farmer was able to feed his family and provide basic necessities, but he struggled financially. Facets of the fledging Industrial Revolution were affected as well.
The Graham-Paige Motors Corporation of Detroit, Mich., was grappling with the effects of the depression like every other business. The company launched their first agricultural venture with the introduction of the Graham-Bradley model 503 tractor in 1937. The corporate leadership hoped the new and well-designed farm tractor would pull their car manufacturing firm through their struggles resulting from the depression.
Over the course of many years the Graham Brothers of Washington, Indiana; Joseph B., Robert C. and Ray A. grew in stature in the rapidly evolving auto industry. Their ventures included building Dodge trucks beginning in 1921, as Graham Brothers, Inc. They sold their interest in this venture and formed Graham Brothers Corporation in 1927 as a holding company. This company had varying interests, including an $11 million share in Libby-Owens Sheet Glass of Toledo, Ohio.
The Graham Brothers were not content to be passive investors in related segments of the auto industry, so their re-entry as an auto manufacturing firm became Paige-Detroit Motor Car Company. They acquired control of this company on June 10, 1927. The former Paige-Detroit firm built Paige cars and trucks with peak production of 43,500 vehicles in 1923. To complete the control of this company, the Graham brothers invested $4 million and pledged another $4 million for improvements. Subsequently, the next stockholders meeting resulted in a decision to rename the firm Graham-Paige Motors Corporation.
At the New York Automobile Show in January 1928, the resurgent company introduced a new line of Graham-Paige cars. The company manufactured large numbers of automobiles and by 1930 altered the name plate from Graham-Page to Graham. The affects of the Great Depression began to influence auto sales. In an attempt to stimulate interest, the firm introduced a less expensive car. Even with countless modifications to their automobile, the company continued to face major obstacles.
In 1937 the company manufactured 237 Graham-Bradley tractors with their first release in 1938. The last general purpose Graham-Bradley tractor sold in 1940. Graham-Paige announced the release of another tractor in 1946 referred to as Frazer. An extensive line of implements and field machines was to have accompanied this new tractor. Evidently, no tractors or related equipment were ever produced.
The company soon shifted away from auto manufacturing to government military production. By 1942, the Graham Brothers divested their interest in Graham-Paige Motors Corporation.
In 1944, Joseph Washington Frazer, former president of Willys-Overland assumed control of Graham-Paige. After the war a completely new automobile was introduced as Frazer.
Graham Brothers eventually severed their entire holdings in the automobile manufacturing business. Their assets were diverted to New York City real estate. In New York City, their holdings included well known landmarks such as Madison Square Gardens and Pennsylvania Station.
The Graham-Bradley had many innovative features in the well designed tractor. The 2-plow tractor was rubber tired with adjustable real wheels, from 56 to 84 inches. The rear wheels could be reversed. This provided additional farming applications.
The tractor was equipped with a Continental engine having a displacement of 217 cubic inches. Nebraska tests revealed 25.2 drawbar horsepower.
The belt pulley was unusual. It was driven from the rear of the transmission. By locking out the final drive with a lever, all transmission speeds, including reverse, were available at the pulley.
The fully styled tractor sported a sleek design. The grill was contoured and the hood was long with full length louvered side panels providing a streamlined appearance. The side panels were easily removed to service the engine. And, the gauges were grouped in a panel on the cowl along with the choke, throttle control and ignition switch.
Graham-Paige did not have a dealer organization for tractor sales and service. They contracted with Sears, Roebuck and Company to market the Graham-Bradley tractor through their stores and catalog. Sears Roebuck had marketed a Bradley tractor (no connection to Graham-Bradley or David Bradley tractors) about six years earlier. Apparently this was a short lived arrangement as the Bradley Tractor Company only built 300 units.
In 1938, Executive VP for Graham-Paige, Robert Graham announced the company’s aggressive plans to build 10,000 tractors annually over the next five years. Unfortunately this never happened. Although the Graham-Bradley tractor sold well, the contractual arrangement with Sears Roebuck quickly eroded. Sears Roebuck gradually devoted less space to general and farming catalogs. The tractor eventually disappeared from their catalog in 1940.
The number of Graham-Bradley toys and pedal tractors is very limited. Auburn Rubber Company of Auburn, Indiana made the first Graham-Bradley tractor as a row crop rubber model. It is estimated that just a few thousand were made. There may have been less than 100 made as a standard.
With large production numbers, it would surprise collectors that thousands of boys received brand new Graham-Bradley tractors for Christmas prior to and just after the war. Often times, their tractor gift included a complete set of David Bradley implements also made by Auburn Rubber Company.
The toy was made from hard rubber. The hallmark Graham-Bradley grill and louvered side panels are distinct features of the Auburn toy. Unfortunately, the tires do not have the correct tread style or Allstate trademark. Like the real tractor, the Auburn toy tractor was sold through Sears, Roebuck and Company. They were shown in the Sears catalog in 1939 and 1940. According to Collector Model Farm Toys of the World by Crilley and Burkholder, “The rather streamlined design might have been just ahead of its time.”
The Graham-Bradley pedal tractor pictured is owned by Mark Cook. Mark and his father, Marvin, own the Cook Tractor Museum at East Sparta, Ohio. While the pedal tractor is in excellent condition, it remains a mystery. “I do not remember where or how I acquired the tractor. And, there is no record of the manufacturer,” indicated Mark.
Die-Cast Promotions Graham-Bradley
Die-Cast Promotions of Dubuque, Iowa, had great success with their high detailed automobiles sold under the Highway 61 label. With this success, they set out to manufacture an orphan or lesser known tractor. “One of the biggest reasons we chose the Graham-Bradley was the success we had with our 1951 Studebaker model. It got us thinking that a tractor with a similar past would fit into our business model. The Graham-Bradley was an obvious choice,” related Patrick Valant, product development, Die-Cast Promotions.
(Insert picture 6 or 7) The Graham-Bradley 1/16-scale die-cast general purpose row crop tractor was released in 2003. Die-Cast Promotions thoroughly researched the original tractor and built their scale model with exquisite detail. As with the original tractor, the classic louvered side panels are removable. Once removed, the details of the engine and supporting parts are very evident. The rubber tread style is unique. In addition, the rear wheels are reversible as with the real tractor to accommodate different crop applications.
(Insert picture 8) Die-Cast Promotions introduced their Graham-Bradley 1/16-scale die-cast general purpose standard tractor version in 2004. The tractor is nearly identical to the row crop with the exception of the authentic, Allstate tractor-type rear tires and front rib tires.
Orphan tractors were often built by manufacturers with non-agriculture connections. When the firm experienced financial difficulties, they resorted to building farm tractors and equipment as a means to regain monetary health. The Great Depression quickly sorted out those manufacturing firms with week financial footing or poorly conceived sales and marking plans. Some made it and some did not.