The Tractor That Built Caterpillar's Empire

The Tractor That Built Caterpillar's Empire

On this day in business history ...

The earliest predecessor of today's Caterpillar tractors rumbled across the fields of Roberts Island near Stockton, Calif., on Nov. 24, 1904. This prototype tractor, built by Benjamin Holt, was the first tractor to feature the "tracks" we now associate more closely with tanks and heavy excavation equipment. Within five years, Holt would establish a factory in Illinois to manufacture these innovative new machines, and the new tractors proved so successful that they eventually influenced the design of a wide range of large equipment -- more than 10,000 Holt vehicles went into service during World War I, and the tracked design of these machines would have a profound impact on the end of the war as British and French tanks began to roll across the trenches.

Benjamin Holt died in 1920, but the company moved on with a new focus on construction, with a particular focus on road-building after the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1921. After a protracted legal battle over similarly designed industrial machines, Holt Caterpillar, as the company was eventually known, merged with rival C. L. Best Tractor in 1925 to form the Caterpillar that's now familiar to industrial operators and investors around the world.

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