James Oliver – He Changed Farming Forever


It may surprise some people to know the term tractor has a connection with the history of Oliver tractors. In 1906, when W.H. Williams, sales manager for the newly formed Hart-Parr Company called the company’s traction engine a tractor, the name stuck and that’s why we call the farm machine a tractor today.

On April 1, 1929, the Hart-Parr Tractor Company, American Seeding Machine Company, and the Nichols and Shephard Machine Company merged with the Oliver Chilled Plow Company to form the Oliver Farm Equipment Corporation. Within a few years the name was shortened to Oliver Corporation.

Oliver Beginnings

Oliver gets its name from James Oliver, who was born on August 23, 1823, in Scotland. The Oliver family moved to the United States when James was eleven, finally settling in Indiana.

James showed signs of brilliance at an early age, but had to leave school when his father died in 1837. He took a job as a helper on a pole-boat, but soon quit because he disliked the boisterous lifestyle of the men working on the river.

In 1844, Oliver married and found a job in the iron molding trade. He also farmed and did coppering on the side. In 1855, he purchased a quarter interest in a foundry for the inventory value of $88.96. Located in South Bend, Ind., the business made cast-iron plows.

James Oliver had farmed enough to know that cast-iron plows at the time didn’t do a good job of plowing and shedding heavy soils. He went to work on making a more efficient plow and came up with the idea of a chilled plow.

The new plow was a practical success because it scoured better and was easier for horses to pull. Oliver later received a patent for the chilled plow. Demand for the plow steadily increased and the business became known as the Oliver Chilled Plow Company.

Incorporating with South Bend Iron works in 1868, the company eventually became the largest plow manufacturer in the world. The legendary Oliver logo was designed in 1870.

The Oliver Corporation

James Oliver died in 1908 and his son, Joseph took over the company. He guided Oliver with the same skill, dedication, and integrity that his father had. The Oliver Farm Equipment Company further expanded its reputation for building the best agricultural implements in the world.

In 1929, after the merger with Hart-Parr and the two other farm machinery companies, the Oliver Corporation was formed. Because Hart-Parr Tractor Co., had already been building tractors and was acquired by Oliver, the new model tractors were called Oliver Hart-Parr.

Oliver came out with the Oliver Hart-Parr Model 18-28 in 1930. The tractor was the first Oliver and it innovated the industry with live power-take-off and a three forward speed transmission. Industrial versions of the model were also made.

Through the years Oliver made tractors and related farm equipment to meet the needs of farmers all over the world. In 1960, the company was bought by the White Corporation and the last tractor with the name Oliver on it, rolled off the assembly line in 1976.