Gravely and his motor plow

Posted by | October 24, 2011

Dear Sir:

During the past year, I have had occasion to discuss the business situation with practically every business man in the City of Charleston and suburbs. Our very limited number of productive enterprises and our crippled coal industries are not sufficient. The trade balance is against us. What is the remedy? There is but one remedy-Production.

We must produce something that will bring in more money than we pay out, or we are bound to go broke. People and jobs are two things necessary to keep the wheels of business going. How are we going to get them? Make the jobs and the people will come.

Put some of (your) money into productive enterprises and the problem is solved.


Start factories, produce something that people will buy. Production is the very foundation of our existence. Without it, we are lost. Vacant lots, empty houses and idle factories do not pay dividends.

The Gravely® Motor Plow has been developed from an Idea to a commercial reality and a factory with a small production. We are getting orders by the carload. Today’s mail brought orders for 31 Motor Plows. The number that we can sell is limited only by the number we can make. There are approximately twenty million people in the United States alone that need the machine. One salesman sold all we made last year in 90 days time.

The question is, does Charleston want a factory, something like the National Cash Register Company of Dayton, Ohio, Eastman Kodak Company of Rochester, and others that employ workmen by the thousands and make real business for the community or does it not? Our product SELLS, STAYS SOLD, AND REPEATS.

The Motor Plow is one of a number of things that will help to bring prosperity back, by bringing the money back and making jobs for men. Think it over.

Benjamin Gravely

Benjamin Franklin Gravely (1876-1953) had a dream: to build a tractor which would revolutionize gardening and lawn maintenance for the homeowner. He had a lot in common with his namesake. He was a tinkerer, someone who wanted to find a way to make things work better. Over the course of his lifetime, he filed 65 patents. Most of these were related to photography, which was his primary business, but he is best remembered for his farm and garden equipment.

Around 1920, Gravely first decided to build and market gas powered tractors commercially. Partly as a result of the above letter, he and several backers raised enough capital to purchase an old factory in the Dunbar, WV area that had previously been used for the manufacture of tires. The Gravely Motor Plow and Cultivator Company opened its doors two years later.

Gravely Motor Plow patentU.S. Patent 1,207,539 Motor Plow Application filed September 8, 1915 by Benjamin F. Gravely, Jr. of Charleston, West Virginia. Patent awarded December 5, 1916. This is the patent on which the Gravely Model D was based.

Even while working as a Charleston portrait studio photographer to support his family, Gravely had long tinkered with the idea of a power-driven push plow. As early as 1911, he was working on a rough design for his garden cultivator. It was a crude affair, powered by a 2.5 horsepower engine, and one belt driven wheel. It was a simple farm implement, made from his hand push cultivator and an old Indian motorcycle that had been given to him.

Gravely may have stumbled on to the cultivator idea by accident. Historians believe he was trying to invent a posthole digger, when it got away from him. It dug a furrow from one end of the garden to the other, before he got it under control.

Ben Gravely finally patented his one-wheeled cultivator for the small family farmer in 1916, and there was nothing similar to it. The first Model D tractor, rolled out in 1922, had 40 or 50 attachments.

Gravely tractors have been in production ever since the Dunbar factory opened. Today, the attachments will still fit tractors made years ago. Since the attachments are expensive — sometimes thousands of dollars – owners are reassured that they can accumulate them over time. That goes far in explaining the almost cultish loyalty surrounding the tractor.

Special thanks to Ed French for his input on this article.


Summer 1997 Goldenseal magazine, cover article

Benjamin+Franklin+Gravely Dunbar+WV +Gravely+tractors appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

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