Starting as a bicycle mechanic, he became first Irishman to to fly & build plane; also pioneered 4 wheel drive in formula 1 race
Posted November 3rd, 2014
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Henry George "Harry" Ferguson (4 November 1884 – 25 October 1960) was a British engineer and inventor who is noted for his role in the development of the modern agricultural tractor, for becoming the first Irishman to build and fly his own aeroplane, and for developing the first four-wheel drive Formula One car, the Ferguson P99. Today his name lives on in the name of the Massey Ferguson company.


Ferguson was born at Growell, near Dromore, County Down, the son of a farmer. In 1902, Ferguson went to work with his brother, Joe, in his bicycle and car repair business. Whilst working there as a mechanic, he developed an interest in aviation, visiting airshows abroad. In 1904, he began to race motorcycles. In the 1900s the young Harry Ferguson became fascinated with the newly emerging technology of powered human flight and particularly with the exploits of the Wright brothers, the American aviation pioneers who made the first plane flight in 1903 in North Carolina, USA. 


In the United Kingdom, the first ever sustained powered flight was made in October 1908 by the American aviator Samuel Franklin Cody, and the first Briton to accomplish powered flight in the UK was John Moore-Brabazon in May 1909, but this had not yet been achieved in Ireland. Ferguson began to develop a keen interest in the mechanics of flying and travelled to several air shows, including exhibitions in 1909 at Blackpool and Rheims where he took notes of the design of early aircraft. Harry convinced his brother that they should attempt to build an aircraft at their Belfast workshop and working from Harry's notes, they worked on the design of plane, the Ferguson monoplane.


After making many changes and improvements, they transported their new aircraft by towing it behind a car through the streets of Belfast up to Hillsborough Park to make their first attempt at flight. They were at first thwarted by propeller trouble but continued to make technical alterations to the plane. After a delay of nearly a week caused by bad weather, the Ferguson monoplane finally took off from Hillsborough on 31 December 1909. Harry Ferguson became the first Irishman to fly and the first citizen of the United Kingdom to build and fly his own aeroplane.


After falling out with his brother over the safety and future of aviation Ferguson decided to go it alone, and in 1911 founded a company selling Maxwell, Star and Vauxhall cars and Overtime Tractors.Ferguson saw at first hand the weakness of having tractor and plough as separate articulated units, and in 1917 he devised a plough that could be rigidly attached to a Model T Ford car—the Eros, which became a limited success, competing with the Model F Fordson.


In 1920 and 1921 Ferguson demonstrated early versions of his three-point linkage on Fordsons at Cork and at Dearborn. Ferguson and Henry Ford discussed putting the Ferguson system of hitch and implements onto Fordson tractors at the factory, but no deal was struck. Ferguson and his team of longtime colleagues, including Willie Sands and Archie Greer, soon developed a hydraulic version, which was patented in 1926. 


After one or two false starts, Ferguson eventually founded the Ferguson-Sherman Inc., with Eber and George Sherman. The new enterprise manufactured the Ferguson plough incorporating the patented "Duplex" hitch system mainly intended for the Fordson "F" tractor. Following several more years of development, Ferguson's new hydraulic version of the three-point linkage was first seen on his prototype Ferguson "Black", now in the Science Museum, Kensington, London. A production version of the "Black" was introduced in May 1936, made at one of the David Brown factories in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, and designated Ferguson Model A tractor. In 1938, Ferguson's interests were merged with those of David Brown junior to created the Ferguson-Brown Company.



By 1952, most of the important Ferguson patents had expired, and this allowed Henry Ford II to claim that the case had not restricted Ford's activities too much. It follows that all the world's other tractor manufacturers could also use Ferguson's inventions, which they duly did. A year later Ferguson merged with Massey Harris to become Massey-Harris-Ferguson Co, later Massey Ferguson.


Harry Ferguson Inc.

Production of a US version, the TO20, started at a new plant, owned by Harry Ferguson Inc, in October 1948, leaving the UK plant to supply the rest of the world. Ferguson's research division went on to develop various cars and tractors, including the first Formula One four-wheel-drive car. Feguson's four wheel drive system, utilising an open centre differential gear, were used in Formula 1 race cars and in the Range Rover and later in constant four-wheel-drive Land Rovers.


Ferguson died at his home at Stow-on-the-Wold in 1960, the result of a barbiturate overdose; the inquest was unable to conclude whether this had been accidental or not.


Ferguson T20 History and Archive V.2

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