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Harry Ferguson was founder of what was to become a worldwide tractor empire. He was a rare combination of engineer, businessman and visionary.

He has been given many descriptions in the past, including that of humanitarian, self-publicist, canny negotiator, disciplinarian, and above all, a brilliant inventor.

He was born in a village in County Down in 1884 and was a 15 year old's farmer's son when he saw his first car being driven on the roads of his native Northern Ireland.

Determined to work in engineering, when he left school he went to work with a brother who had a garage in Belfast, studied at night school, and before long had established his own garage business.

He gained publicity for his work with his daring exploits. At the age of 24 he built and flew his own plane after being inspired by Bleriot's channel flight in 1909. He was also a first-class motor racing driver.

By the time of World War One, he was a leading businessman, and was appointed by the government to review the efficiency of farm machinery and tractors in Ireland to ensure continued food production.

It was to inspire him to design his own lightweight tractor. The first models went into production in 1936 in Huddersfield. Then in 1938 he struck a deal with Henry Ford in the US, to produce Ferguson tractors though the Second World War. When Henry Ford retired after the war, a new board of directors cancelled the agreement, while continuing to produce the tractors.

Ferguson sued Ford and won  $9.25m compensation in 1952, and he returned to Britain and came to Coventry, making Banner Lane his centre of tractor production in 1946. The first model off the line was the TE20, affectionately known as the "little grey Fergie".

The tractor empire flourished and merged with the Massey-Harris Company of Canada in 1953, becoming Massey Ferguson in 1958.

Ferguson meanwhile worked hard to develop a four-wheel drive system to maximise road holding and minimise skidding, but failed to make a commercial breakthrough. It took a while to catch on but is now common-place.

He retired to Abbotswold near Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds.
He suffered from insomnia and depression and, when he died from a drugs overdose on 25 October 1960, a coroner's jury returned an open verdict.
Ferguson Facts:

Ferguson helped explorer Edmund Hilary reach the South Pole by supplying three TE20 tractors.

He piloted the first aeroplane flight in Ireland in a plane he designed and made.

He was known as the "mad mechanic of Belfast" because of his daring driving in early car and motorcylce races.

His research into four-wheel drive cars using transmission systems based on his original design.

He once drove a tractor around the ballroom of Claridge's Hotel in what was described as the "greatest publicity stunt of the 1940's" when he decided to give a large cocktail party to promote export sales.

Ferguson turned down the offer of a knighthood.
Harry Ferguson
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