Samson tractors will be displayed at this year’s Rock River Thresheree. Billy Durant founded General Motor in 1908 and decided after World War I he wanted GM to manufacture tractors. He wanted to beat Henry Ford in the sale of tractors.
J.A. Craig, general manager of the Janesville Machine Company (located on Franklin and River streets), met with Durant in March 1918 and convinced him that GM should build tractors in Janesville. So GM bought the Machine Company and the Samson Tractor Company in Stockton, California. For years, the Machine Company had manufactured corn planters, plows and cultivators.
J.P Cullen was the contractor for the plant on Industrial Avenue. The first Samson tractor came off the assembly line on May 1, 1919. There were two types of Samson tractors: the Model “M” and the Model “D,” which was called the “Iron Horse” as it was steered by reins like a horse.
Our GM plant also produced two types of Samson trucks: a 1 ½ ton and ¾ ton. The Samson tractors did not sell as they had defects, and Ford sold his tractors for approximately $200 less. GM lost about $33 million on the Samson venture. This led to Durant being fired.
Craig met again with Durant and convinced him to build cars and trucks in Janesville. On Feb. 13, 1923, the first car rolled off the line in Janesville, and the plant closed in 2009. The Janesville plant also built a nine-passenger prototype Samson car, but it was never put into production.
LEON K. FREEBURG