The Rise and Fall of International Harvester

By Walt Moore, Editor | May 22, 2018
The International Payhauler and H400 Payloader were an efficient earthmoving system for many operations.

The history of International Harvester reaches back to the early 1830s, when Cyrus McCormick invented a mechanical reaper that could replace many laborers working with harvesting scythes. By 1847, McCormick was building the reaper at the McCormick Harvesting Works in Chicago, which, in 1902, merged with the Deering Harvester Co. and three smaller firms to form International Harvester Corp. (IHC).

Above: The International Payhauler and 10-cubic-yard H400 Payloader were an efficient earthmoving system for many operations. Courtesy HCEA Archives.

By the mid 1920s, IHC was building “Farmall” farm tractors and went on to develop  a range of agricultural equipment. IHC’s truck roots go back to the 1907 Auto Wagon, leading to producing not only highway trucks, but also such notable vehicles as the Scout and Travel-All. Along the way, IHC added construction machines (and the engines to power them), including crawlers, scrapers, off-highway trucks, and wheel loaders, the latter via the 1952 purchase of the Frank G. Hough Co. IHC’s Solar Div. in California added gas-turbine engines to the product portfolio.

The Historical Construction Equipment Association (HCEA) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history of the construction, dredging and surface-mining equipment industries. With more than 4,000 members in 25 countries, HCEA activities include publication of a quarterly educational magazine, Equipment Echoes; operation of the National Construction Equipment Museum and Archives in Bowling Green, Ohio; and hosting an annual working exhibition of restored construction equipment. Individual memberships within the USA and Canada are $35 for one year, $66.95 for two years, $99.95 for three years, and $45.00 US annually elsewhere. HCEA seeks to develop relationships in the equipment-manufacturing industry and offers a college scholarship for engineering and construction-management students. Information is available at www.hcea.net, or by calling 419.352.5616, or e-mailing info@hcea.net.

In 1978, IHC was near the top of  the Fortune 500 list of largest companies, but by late 1979, IHC’s fortunes began to decline, precipitated perhaps by a devastating strike, but coupled with a downturn in the global economy and increasing competition. By 1984, the company had been essentially broken apart and sold. IHC’s Truck Div., however, has lived on successfully, becoming Navistar International Corp., which manufacturers commercial trucks under the International brand. 

Most of IHC’s construction-equipment lines were sold to Dresser. In 1988, Dresser and Komatsu formed Komatsu-Dresser Co., a 50/50 joint venture that produced construction and mining equipment in North America. In 1994, Komatsu purchased full control of Komatsu-Dresser Co., renaming the organization Komatsu America International Co. The core of IHC’s crawler lines, however, came to rest under the “Dressta” trade name, produced by Huta Stalowa Wola, an IHC licensee in Poland since 1972. Dressta is now a LiuGong brand.

IHC sold its agricultural lines to Case in 1984, creating Case International, part of the CNH Global group under Fiat ownership. IHC’s Solar Div. was sold to Caterpillar, which continues to build industrial gas turbines.

IHC claimed a number of product distinctions in its day, including the 1964 all-wheel-drive PH180 Payhauler, a 45-ton-capacity truck with same-size dual wheels at each corner. The success of the 180 prompted the company to develop several other Payhauler models, including the 50-ton-capacity PH350. When IHC divested its construction equipment division, the Payhauler line was sold to a group of employees who formed Payhauler Corp., which continued to produced the distinctive truck and remanufacture older models until 1998, when Terex purchased the company. (Report based on material in HCEA’s Equipment Echoes magazine.)

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