- Samson paved the way for
- Eighty-seven vehicles an hour run off
the assembly lines at the General Motors Corp.
- Buick- Oldsmobile-Cadillac Group plant
- The trucks and cars built here today
have electronic devices that contribute to traffic
- safety, energy efficiency and driver
- But they can trace their roots back
to one of the simplest tools ever manufactured:
- the plow.
- The local plant's father was GM's Samson
Tractor Division, which was born of the
- marriage of Samson Tractor Co. of Stockton,
Calif., and the Janesville Machine Co., which made plows, planters
and cultivators. Janesville Machine was formed in 1881 to take
over the business of HARRIS Manufacturing Co., whose history
dates to a partnership formed in 1859 to make farm implements
here. The original partners were James HARRIS, Zebediah
GUILD, D. R. ANGELL and Leonard TYLER.
- Janesville Machine operated in factories
along South Franklin and River streets.
- J. A. CRAIG rose through ranks
at Janesville Machine: salesman, general manager,
- company president. In 1918, he convinced
W. C. DURANT, president of the fledgling General Motors
Corp., that Janesville Machine would be a good acquisition. How
much convincing Durant needed is open to debate because he was
buying companies left and right, and his impulses eventually
led to his fall from grace at GM.
- This corporation bought Samson Tractor
soon after and formed the tractor division.
was named to head the company in 1919, and his nephew, Hugh CRAIG,
later was named general sales manager.
- J. P. CULLEN & Sons Construction
Co. erected the first GM building here in
- 1919, and the city experienced another
of its periodic booms. Population, which had been rising gradually,
jumped. In 1910 [1919?], it was 13,894, up only 711 from 1910[?],
but by 1920, the population was 18,293.
- The city paved South Jackson Street,
put up street lights there and opened up
- Industrial Avenue for a few blocks.
- A GM subsidiary erected whole streets
of new houses for workers relocating to
- Janesville. The plant drew workers
from other areas because the available labor force was growing
- On May 1, 1919, the plant started making
10 Model M Samson tractors a day. A
- year later, the plant was turning out
150 tractors a day and [a] smaller model known as the "Iron
- The Iron Horse proved to be a nag.
Although it was fashioned like a tractor and had
- no driving horses, it was steered by
reins. It sold for $450 but was such a failure in the market
that Samson had to repurchase nearly all of the units and salvage
them for scrap and parts.
- The GM plant today boasts some of the
automotive industry's newest technological
- innovations, and so did the tractor
plant in its time: first use of an air-powered wrench and water
bath air filter on the assembly line.
- The company also produced two sizes
of truck: three-quarter- and 1 1/4-ton. The
- trucks' marketing was geared toward
farmers and other users of horse-drawn wagons. Advertising cited
the claims: "Samson trucks will not eat up all the profits
in their first cost and upkeep" and "It costs twice
as much to haul by wagon as it does by motor truck."
- The trucks could be equipped with wheel
base extensions that enabled them to be
- used in soft or plowed fields.
- The three-quarter ton sold for $655;
the bigger model for $1,095.
But while the tractor business was a fallow field, American farmers
weren't ready to
- turn whole hog to mechanization. And
Henry Ford's "Fordson" was reaping a good share of
the limited market.
- By September 1921, truck and tractor
production had stopped here, and the plant
- was used to make parts for tractors
already in the field.
- A year later, however, CRAIG
had put his persuasive powers to work again, and
- GM decided to build Chevrolets here.
- [Source: The
Janesville Gazette, August 14, 1985, p. 1G, 8G; Courtesy of
- For further information, I recommend
the Rock County Historical
Society's page on Samson Tractors (found
under Online Exhibits).