Cecil Pond, a pioneer of the riding lawn mower and founder of Wheel Horse Products, has died at age 87.
Gary Pond of South Bend said his father died Dec. 30 in Palm City, Fla., about 10 days after suddenly falling ill and being hospitalized. Pond said it was the third time in the past year his father had been hospitalized.
Born in 1924 in South Bend, Cecil Pond went to Purdue University for a year before joining the Army during World War II. He then returned to his hometown where he and his father began making a small farm tractor out of their garage in 1946.
The company was first called Pond Tractor Co., but they changed the name to Wheel Horse Products because another family member had a company with a similar name, Gary Pond said.
They then started making a two-wheel tractor that the operator would walk behind. They later came up with the idea of making a tractor people could use to cut grass.
"He invented the riding mower because he didn't like to mow the lawn," his son said.
Cecil Pond changed the landscape of American lawns, according to Michael Martino Jr., who wrote a book on the company, "Straight from the Horse's Mouth."
"It came out after World War II when suburbs were popping up everywhere and it revolutionized the industry by bringing the riding lawn mower to suburban homes," said Martino, a teacher in East Haven, Conn.
Demand was so high that the company had a hard time keeping pace, Martino said. The company made 22 attachments, including snow plows and plows for gardens.
"It just kept evolving, until it came in the top end of the industry," Martino said.
Wheel Horse had more than 500 employees at its plant in South Bend before Pond sold the company to American Motors Corp. in 1975. It was later sold to Toro.
Pond and his wife, Betty, also owned a winery in Harbert, Mich. They moved permanently to Florida about a decade ago, his son said.
Pond is survived by his son, two daughters, seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren.