A Brief History of Caterpillar

Building a Better Machine

Today, Caterpillar Inc. leads the construction equipment industry with top-of-the-line, quality machines and solutions. This did not happen overnight, however. The beginning of their story is traced all the way back to the turn of the 20th century, when construction looked very different from what we know in today’s modern age. 

Picture yourself surrounded by the rich, soft earth of the San Joaquin Valley in Stockton, California, in the late 1890s. Construction equipment was clumsy, bulky, extremely complicated and often cumbersome, sinking into the dirt due to poor design and immense size. Enter Benjamin Holt, the youngest of 11 siblings born to a sawmill owner in New Hampshire. With a natural ability to comprehend machinery, he knew that there must be a solution for all of the problems facing the budding construction equipment industry.

After several attempts to fix technological challenges, including implementing massive wheels and complicated mechanics, Holt had the idea to replace the wheels on a steamer engine with a set of wooden tracks bolted directly to chains, creating the prototype for what would become the crawler-type tread tractor. 

Around the same time, across the pond in Lincolnshire, England, Richard Hornsby & Sons patented a similar design using steel plates on tracks. Unable to find a dependable market for their design, they sold their patent to Benjamin Holt in 1911, the same year that Holt first trademarked the name “Caterpillar,” inspired by the locomotion of the machines appearing similar to caterpillars.

Machines in Wartime

During the First World War, Benjamin Holt caterpillar-style tractors were initially sent to the front lines in Europe to assist in agricultural needs and construction. Once the military saw the potential and resilience in Holt’s tractors, a new option became apparent. In addition to being used for building and rebuilding the damaged nations, their usefulness became paramount in transporting artillery to the lines of battle. 

Subsequently to Holt’s involvement in World War I, many of their later contracts involved the military. When the war ended, the peacetime economy had a negative impact, and nearly dissolved the company. In 1920, Benjamin Holt died after a short illness, leaving the future of the company uncertain.

A Road to the Future

The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921 presented a new opportunity for the struggling construction manufacturer left behind by Benjamin Holt. Literally paving the way for the modern era, Holt’s legacy, now led by Tomas A. Baxter, merged with a rival company C.L. Best to create the Caterpillar Tractor Co. The company’s success in this venture led them to reinstate a relationship with the US military during the Second World War, constructing airfields in the Pacific theater for navy operations. By the middle of the century, Caterpillar had grown into a multinational corporation.

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Modern Leaders in Construction Equipment

Today, Caterpillar, Inc. is a Fortune 100 corporation, who manufactures the industry standard for construction machines, engines and developments in the field. No longer will you only see Caterpillar products on farms, but in all manner of construction, mining, forestry and other projects, including military contracts. Caterpillar products are manufactured all over the world, on every continent (save the chilly one down south) and are synonymous with quality. Contact Wagner Equipment today and see for yourself the quality and craftsmanship that is built in to every CAT product, and start your own venture today!