During the war, a number of MH plants that were located behind enemy-held territory no longer produced machinery for MH. Also, all American companies were rationed on gasoline, heating oil, metals, rubber, paper and plastics, and MH felt compelled to greatly reduce its output of farm machinery and instead focus on producing war materials. It was believed by executives that Hyslop, who had a reputation for making wise financial decisions, would be able to help put the company back on a profitable path. In 1938, Hyslop was promoted to president of the U.S. division of MH and relocated from Europe to Racine, Wis., the company’s U.S. headquarters. The executives at MH were correct about Hyslop’s moneymaking ability, even though three years after he had been handed the U.S. presidency at MH, he was faced with guiding his company through World War II.
MH had once been a leader in the manufacturing of tractors, but by 1938 it lost much of its business to John Deere, International Harvester, Allis-Chalmers, Ford and Ferguson. In the hope of reclaiming its market share of tractors, MH in 1938 introduced the Massey-Harris Model 101 Super, which utilized “Chrysler’s rugged (six-cylinder) industrial inline engine.” The MH-20 was a heavy machine and was too expensive for the average family farmer, so MH began working on a new model that was “smaller, lighter, and more affordable.” That was achieved in 1941 with the introduction of the MH-21. Just as MH was beginning to mass produce their MH-21 combines, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, resulting in the U.S. entry into World War II.
The windrows were subject to high winds that scattered the grain stalks, and drenching rains delayed combining and often lowered the quality of the grain. Another disadvantage of tractor-pulled reapers was that the large and heavy tractor wheels “crushed (the) grain-heavy stalks when opening up the fields.” Ken Hyslop as seen in the 1906 University of North Dakota yearbook. Special to The Forum
By far, the company’s biggest innovation in 1938 was the introduction of the MH-20, the first self-propelled combine, described as “probably the most significant development in harvesting history.” Prior to the introduction of the MH-20, harvesting small grains took two separate operations. First, the stalks of the ripened grain were mowed by a reaper/swather into windrows and allowed to dry before being combined. With the MH-20, the grain crops were cut and combined in one operation, saving man-hours, gasoline and oil. The 101 had a four-speed transmission and was capable of traveling 20 mph on roads. Most importantly, “it was one of the most powerful tractors on the market that year.” The base price for the 101 was about $1,100, which was nearly $200 more than the John Deere A. To address this, MH unveiled the smaller “Model 101 Junior” in 1939. Every year that Hyslop was president, except for the wartime years of 1943-1946, MH came out with newer and better models.
With the U.S. at war, the Army Ordnance Department came to Racine to talk to Hyslop about his willingness to take on a prime contract of tank production, and he said he was interested. Then, in January 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt established the War Production Board (WPB), an agency that directed the conversion of American industries from peacetime work to war needs. It rationed such commodities as gasoline, heating oil, metals, rubber, paper and plastics, and large industrial companies were directed to produce weapons and other items that were necessary for the war effort. RELATED COLUMNS:
As the war was coming to an end, much of the world was starving. The U.S. War Food Administration swung into action to increase grain production in the U.S., and set a goal of 1 billion bushels of wheat in 1944. It appeared that this was an impossible goal because most of the existing harvesting machines were in a sad state of disrepair, and the WPB was still rationing steel so that very few new machines could be produced. An American M5A1 light tank passes through the wrecked streets of Coutances, France, in 1944. Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons / Special to The Forum On Jan. 11, MH executives signed a contract to manufacture over 1,000 M5 tanks at a price of $70,000 per tank. On Feb. 9, MH purchased an automobile manufacturing plant from the Nash Automobile Co. in Racine and then began the process of converting it into a plant that could make tanks. MH, under the direction of Hyslop, began producing M5s — 257 in 1942, 753 in 1943 and 324 in 1944.
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