Sernett Speaks May 6: “Tractor Wars of ’20s”

Automobile magnate Henry Ford brought profound change to American farm life and the economy with his “Fordson,” the first mass-produced tractor. The ensuring “tractor wars” of the 1920s would offer farmers an affordable source of mechanical power, forsaking horsepower, and change agricultural life forever.

Dr. Milton C. Sernett, Professor Emeritus of African American Studies and History at Syracuse University, will address this tumultuous time in the presentation “From Muscles to Motors on the Farm: Henry Ford and the Great American Tractor Wars, 1910-1930,”  at the Niagara History Center, 215 Niagara St. in Lockport, Wednesday, May 6, at 7 p.m.

This free program, open to the public, is funded by a grant from Speakers in the Humanities.

The story of conflict in the farm machinery industry is set against the backdrop of an era of rapid social change on all fronts. The transition from horse power to tractor power – muscles to motors – took place at a time when families in both rural and urban settings were adjusting to automobiles, airplanes, telephones, electricity, radio, refrigeration and more marvels that we now consider part of everyday modern life.

Sernett’s program will include rare photos from tractor manufacturers’ archives and images depicting the seasons of farm life before mechanization.

Sernett taught at Syracuse University for over 30 years. He is the author of eight books and numerous articles and essays, many dealing with American abolitionism, the Underground Railroad and African American history. His current book project is a history of the “great tractor wars” of the ‘20s and Henry Ford’s influence on American farm life.

Please call the Niagara History Center at (716) 434-7433 for details.

This lecture is presented in collaboration with the New York State Council for the Humanities. It is made possible through the Speakers in the Humanities program with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Begun in 1983, the Council’s Speakers in the Humanities program has brought distinguished scholars on a wide range of humanities topics to audiences across New York State. All events funded by the Speakers program are free and open to the public. This program offers non-profit organizations and community groups the opportunity to bring top humanities programs to their audiences. For more information about the Speakers in the Humanities program, visit

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