1884 – 1960
Ferguson was born on his family’s farm at Growell, near Dromore, County Down. While still in his teens he entered his brother Joe’s car and cycle repair business in Belfast as an apprentice, but had soon developed a motor cycle and racing car of his own. In 1909 he made the first powered flight in Ireland in a machine of his own design, flying from Dundrum to Newcastle, Co Down. In 1911 he opened his own car business in May Street, Belfast, later moving to Donegall Square East.
In 1914 he began to sell American tractors but, finding them heavy and dangerous to operate, he designed and built a new plough which was coupled to the tractor in three-point linkage, so that both formed a single unit. This ‘Ferguson System’, building on the earlier two-point linkage patented in 1919, was patented in 1928. Together with many other inventions, it was to revolutionise farming.
In 1936 he started manufacturing his own tractors, but three years later entered into partnership with Henry Ford; over 300,000 of the new Ford Ferguson tractors were made. Following a lawsuit with Ford’s grandson, the partnership was dissolved in 1947.
Ferguson went on to design a light-weight tractor, the TC-20, or “Wee Fergie”, which was assembled by Standard Motor Company of Coventry; about half a million of these were made. He later entered another stormy partnership, this time with Massey-Harris of Toronto, to form the Massey-Ferguson Company.
All his life he promoted motor cycle and car racing; his efforts led to the Stormont Road Races Act (1932), which made possible the first Ulster Grand Prix. He also lobbied the R.A.C. to organise the famous Tourist Trophy motor cycle races (1928-36). In later life he applied himself to the design of four-wheel-drive cars. He died in Stow-on-the Wold in October 1960.
Location of plaque: On the Ulster Bank building, Donegall Square East, Belfast (the site of his show room). There is also a granite memorial to his pioneering flight on the North Promenade, Newcastle. The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra has a full-scale replica of his aeroplane, plus an early tractor and plough.
Date of Unveiling: 18 September 2000