The greatest change in farming technology during the twentieth century was the application of the internal combustion engine.
As our period ends these changes were still at their early stages, but this new source of power was making itself felt.
Like the steam engine, the internal combustion engine was taken up first and most quickly as a stationary engine to drive chaff cutters, seed dressers and other barn machinery.
The first engines on the market had been gas engines fuelled by coal gas, and based closely upon Otto’s prototype four-stroke engine of 1876. Gas engines retained a place in agricultural work, but the petrol and oil engines introduced during the 1890s and 1900s, with their more convenient source of fuel, became the farmers’ firm favourites so, by 1925, the estimate was that there were 1125 gas engines in use on the farms of England and Wales, but more than 56,000 petrol and oil engines.
Most engines used on farms were of 1˝ – 3 hp, though on larger farms those up 5 - 7 hp were not uncommon.
Ultimately it was the tractor that had the most dramatic effect on the mechanization of farming.
It was also to lead to a stronger presence of North American companies in the British market for agricultural implements. The first tractor was American, made by the Charter Engine Company of Chicago in 1889. However, development on this side of the Atlantic was also very active, and some British tractors were of great importance. The Ivel was the first light, petrol-engined tractor, and influenced all subsequent designs. The tractors featured here, illustrating development up to 1914, are of British design and manufacture, for there were very few imports before the First World War. Then things changed. The British government, needing large numbers of tractors quickly for the ploughing-up campaign, placed orders with several American manufacturers, most importantly Ford.