Douglas and Maurice Steiger could not find a tractor that was big enough or powerful enough to handle chores on their northwest Minnesota farm. So in the winter of 1957-58, they designed and built one from stock parts in their dairy barn near Thief River Falls, Minn. It weighed some 15,000 pounds and was powered by a 238-horsepower Detroit diesel engine. That set the stage for the Steiger name and its prime attribute: power. If that alone didn’t set the Steiger apart, the brothers chose a surplus paint color — electric green — that would become synonymous with the tractor brand.
Once the farmers around Pennington County saw that first Steiger tractor with its articulated steering, four-wheel drive, and beefy engine, they wanted one too. So the market for Steiger tractors was born. Over the first few years, the brothers Steiger built tractors for their neighbors. Those early models became known as the Barn Series, since they were built in the Steigers’ barn. More than 120 tractors were built before the Steigers incorporated the business in 1969 and opened a manufacturing operation in Fargo, North Dakota.
Over the next decade, Steiger tractors gained an international customer base. Models were defined under the names of big cats: Tiger, Wildcat, Cougar, Panther, Bearcat, and Puma. Popular with farmers, the tractors were used in construction to pull earth scrapers. The company eventually developed an industrial tractor, painted yellow, for use in construction applications. Steiger also built tractors for Ford and International Harvester.
When the global farm economy went into deep recession in the 1980s, the company suffered loss of sales and its factory ran at a fraction of capacity. In 1986, Steiger declared bankruptcy. That same year it was purchased by Tenneco, at the time the parent company of Case farm tractors. Case had also acquired the agricultural business of International Harvester, forming a new Case IH brand.
Case produced Steiger tractors in its corporate red and also in Steiger green. After 1989, the green paint was retired. Case put the Steiger name on ice for a few years, but brought it back in the mid-1990s. Innovations such as Quadtrac were introduced, along with higher horsepower, 16-speed transmission, and eventually, dedicated Steiger models for construction scraper applications. By 1997, the Steiger name had been stamped on more than 40,000 tractors. Todays gleaming red Case IH Steiger 500s, 580s, and 620s might seem far afield from that first barn-built unit, but the heritage lives on. Steiger will always stand for big power and maneuverability.
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Joe Hanneman, Director of Industry Engagement for IronDirect.