In the beginning...
David Brown's involvement in farm machinery began in 1936 when the company, then a subsidiary of the local family firm David Brown and Sons (Huddersfield) Ltd., collaborated with Harry Ferguson in the manufacture of the legendary Ferguson-Brown Tractor. Built initially in the corner of the David Brown gear factory, the Ferguson-Brown model was the world's first production tractor to be equipped with hydraulic lift and converging 3-point linkage; a revolutionary concept which soon became a fundamental part of farm tractor design the world over.
Approximately 1,350 Ferguson-Brown tractors were built - the last twenty or so at the Meltham factory - before Ferguson and Brown parted; the former to join Henry Ford in the USA and the latter to make tractors of his own design. The first David Brown model, the VAK1, was exhibited at the 1939 Royal Show, it was widely acclaimed. Before quantity production could begin, the Second World War broke out and the Meltham factory's resources were directly mainly towards gear manufacture, for which the name David Brown - then as now - was renowned. The Meltham plant was able to maintain and develop its tractor manufacturing expertise by producing small quantities of aircraft towing and recovery vehicles. This facilitated the switch over to peacetime production of tractors in 1946. Despite the company's comparatively late entry into the highly competitive farm tractor industry, Meltham built machines quickly earned a world reputation for quality and inventive design.
Expansion In 1955 the company acquired the long-established firm of Harrison, McGregor and Guest Ltd. of Leigh, Lancashire, whose range of Albion farm machinery products (notably mowers and binders) had previously earned them high international esteem. In more recent years the Meltham and Leigh plants had been extensively modernised and extended. In July 1971, a new tractor assembly complex - the most modern of its type in Europe - was completed at Meltham, containing many unique features and production techniques with particular emphasis on quality control. The revitalised Leigh plant became the main supplier of large tractor components for the Meltham plant and also the design and build of basic tractor-mounted implements, front loaders and rear-mounted ditcher/digger/loader, for example.
By this time the David Brown company had become Britain's third largest farm tractor manufacturer. The company held the Royal Warrant and had won several Queen's Awards to Industry, both for Export (four out of every five David Brown tractors were sold overseas) and for Technological achievement. In 1976 the company's unique Hydra-Shift semi-automatic transmission won a Design Council Award - the first such award to be made in respect of farm tractor design.
The Atlantic Alliance
The year 1972 marked another significant milestone in the company's development. David Brown Tractors Ltd. was acquired by the international conglomerate, Tenneco Inc. of Houston, Texas, and was affiliated to another world-famous Tenneco subsidiary, the J I Case Company, of Racine, Wisconsin. Under the Tenneco banner, David Brown Tractors and Case were actively and successfully co-ordinating and expanding their combined production, marketing and distribution facilities. Early visible evidence of this powerful new alliance came in 1973 with the adoption of a new unified colour scheme throughout the full range of David Brown and Case farm tractors; a combination of orchid white, power red and black. DBT Distributors and Dealers in the UK and in several parts of Europe now offer selected machines from the Case companies complementary range of farm tractors. In other parts of the world also many joint DBT/Case franchises were established. Additionally, an increasing number of Case construction equipment products employed engines and transmission units manufactured by David Brown Tractors.
The Tenneco purchase of part of International harvester was in 1984 but not approved by the US government until January 1985. The decision not to pursue any further product development (in effect meaning eventual Meltham closure) was taken in February 1985. 1988 was a sad year for David Brown enthusiasts as it was announced that the Meltham factory was to close, and so a history of building tractors since 1939 came to an end.