The Caterpillar Tractor Co.
Alameda County, CA Biographies





THE CATERPILLAR TRACTOR CO.
The most remarkable and distinctive industrial concern in Alameda county is the Caterpillar Tractor Co., the executive offices of which are at San Leandro. with factories at San Leandro and Stockton, California, and Peoria, Illinois. This great enterprise, which is known throughout the civilized world, is the outcome of the consolidation of two companies, the C. L. Best Tractor Co. and the Holt Manufacturing Company, both of which had become extensive manufacturers of tractors, which were becoming increasingly popular on farms, in the timber country, in road making and wherever heavy loads were to be pulled. However, particularly on the Pacific coast, in sandy and heavy loam soil and during the rainy season, the ordinary tractor often failed to function, for it would either not take hold or else become mired so as to he practically useless. To meet these conditions, various changes and improvements were made in the tractors, including the use of wheels of unusual width, an extreme example of which was one tractor built by The Holt Manufacturing Company in 1898, which had wheels about eight feet in diameter and eighteen feet in width on each side of the tractor, which was undoubtedly the largest and most powerful pulling engine ever built; but the fact that the total Weight was increased proportionately detracted from its practical use. To Benjamin Holt, head of The Holt Manufacturing Company, came an inspiration in 1900, while he was seeking a solution of this problem. He built a pair of tracks, or "platform wheels," as they were then called, and installed them on one of the steam tractors. This was a crude device, the shafts, sprockets and other parts being practically picked out of old materials around the plant. This new type of tractor worked so well that it encouraged him to build another one, and thus the modern "Caterpillar Tractor" had its inception. It derived its name from a peculiar circumstance. In 1901 a group of plant executives and engineers stood watching the operation of the new, strange looking machine, and a photographer strode up and asked for instructions. "Shoot that," he was ordered. "Humph!" he mumbled, "That's no tractor looks like a caterpillar." A few days later he was asked for the negative, which he had not catalogued by number, and handed the executive the film, across the envelope of which was labeled the name, "Caterpillar." The name stuck and became the registered trademark name of this track type machine.

Neither Benjamin Holt nor his associates at that time realized the far reaching importance of the new idea which they had put into tangible form, regarding it as only a special purpose tractor for abnormal conditions. But a few years' experience with them demonstrated their entire practicability for general purposes. This fact was emphasized by an experience near Stockton where one of the forty horsepower standard steam tractors mounted on "Caterpillar" tracks was used to pull the load formerly hauled by one of their large sixty horse power round wheel steamers. To their amazement they found that the little tractor not only pulled with ease the load of the large tractor, which consisted of three heavy gangs of plows, but it was able also to pull a fourth gang of plows, and pull all four gangs at a two inch greater depth in the same field and under the same conditions. This experience was the first realization of the superior efficiency of the track over a round wheel type. It was proved that with the "Caterpillar" Tractor the resistance to travel was practically constant on account of the weight being carried on tracks, which distributed it over a large area of ground, as compared with a round wheel tractor in which the power required to propel it varies according to the character of the soil over which it is operating. Gasoline driven "Caterpillars" were first put in use in 1905. After two years of development on the soft delta lands of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers of California, they did their first heavy industrial work when a fleet was used in hauling heavy materials across the Mojave desert and up roadless mountain sides for the Los Angeles aqueduct. In a few years the world at large began to realize that the Caterpillar" Tractor was really a practical piece of machinery for a wide range of uses and its growth in popularity during the subsequent years is a matter of history.

In those days there was keen rivalry in the development of the tractor between the two great pioneers in that line of manufacture, Benjamin Holt, of Stockton, and Daniel Best, of San Leandro, and shortly following the development of the "Caterpillar", C. L. Best, son of Daniel Best, began the development and manufacture of gasoline driven "track laying" tractors at San Leandro. Both concerns enjoyed a measurable degree of prosperity, selling all the tractors they could produce, and in 1925 the two companies were consolidated under the name of the Caterpillar Tractor Co., with its subsidiary, the Western Harvester Company, of Stockton.

The World war gave the "Caterpillar" Tractor its introduction to the whole globe and the story of its use in that great conflict is an interesting one, and is probably not generally known. About two years prior to the war the German government and Austro-Hungarian landowners had become large purchasers of "Caterpillar" Tractors, and had them in pretty general use throughout the empire. It was later revealed that these tractors, in their pre war agricultural work, were operated by soldier drivers detailed by the military authorities for that purpose. Subsequently, during the great German drive through Belgium, heavy artillery was kept steadily behind the infantry in the tremendous sweep forward, a movement of guns unbelievable by the allies. The Germans advanced until they were pounding at the gates of Paris, and then came the counter drive, and the world was startled by a discovery. A "Caterpillar" Tractor had been abandoned and the remarkable advance of the German artillery was explained, as was also the heavy buying by Germany of the tractors prior to the war. Gen. Earnest Swinton, of England, has stated that this tractor, which he saw, was the basis upon which the English developed the design for the world renowned tanks, which later played so conspicuous a part in the attacks of the allies. One of the largest tractors built by the Holt company had been purchased by Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary for use on one of his estates, and was boxed and resting on the docks at New York when the war broke out. An order came from England for a trial tractor and representatives of the Holt company broke open the box, painted out the Austro-Hungarian colors, repainted it with a neutral color, and shipped the same tractor to the English government, which wished to submit it to field tests preparatory to placing with the firm an order for continuous production. "Caterpillar" Tractors solved the problem of the transportation of heavy guns and ammunition over the soft ground, and up steep hills where no roads existed, across shell holes and through timber, while the giant tanks, which were the outgrowth of the "Caterpillar" Tractor, became literally irrestible as engines of destruction.

Since the war, continued improvements have been made in the "Caterpillar" Tractor, and it may be noted in this connection that over four thousand fewer parts are now used in its construction than were used in the war time tractor. The United States War Department keeps in dose and continuous contact with the development and production of the "Caterpillar" Tractor, an officer of the ordinance department, experienced in tractor and tank work, being stationed in the factory at San Leandro.

Today the "Caterpillar" is built from the best materials obtainable for each particular part, considering the use to which it is put. Each part subject to wear or unusual strain is then given the most thorough and scientific heat treatment, and subjected to the most exacting tests known to the automotive industry. This is done because the tractor has to endure much greater abuses than almost any other piece of machinery of its kind in use, being loaded to practically full load at all times, working under the most adverse conditions as to dirt, sand and grit, and being operated continuously.

The use of the "Caterpillar" in its application to modern life is almost unlimited. Naturally, it was quickly taken up in agricultural work, where its superiority was evidenced by its popularity, but in industry it has made its greatest progress. In road building and grading, as well as many other road operations; in the transportation of logs in the timber sections of the country; in the oil fields, in levee construction, townsite and subdivision developments and railroad construction; for moving houses and transporting heavy machinery; around steel plants and foundries in fact, in almost every line of industry the "Caterpillar" has been found to be almost indispensable, and its usefulness will be still further enhanced through the development of tools to be operated with, and controlled by, power taken off the tractor. The Caterpillar Tractor Co. maintains a special department in charge of a research engineer handling this line of work.

The Best plant of the Caterpillar Tractor Co., at San Leandro, occupies ten acres of land, of which five and a half acres are under one roof, fully equipped for the manufacture of two thousand five hundred tractors a year. The other plants of the company are the two which belonged to the Holt company, one at Stockton, California, and the other at Peoria, Illinois. The plant at Stockton occupies twenty one acres, of which twelve acres are under one roof, equipped to produce combined harvesting machines and to manufacture spare parts for "Caterpillar" Tractors. At Peoria the plant occupies forty acres, with fourteen acres under one roof, equipped for the manufacture of five thousand tractors per year. Some idea of the financial strength of this great corporation may be gained from the fact that the last annual statement showed that the stated capital, capital surplus and earned surplus amounted to over twenty two and a half million dollars.

The official roster of the Caterpillar Tractor Company is as follows: Directors, C. L. Best, chairman; M. M. Baker, A. L. Chickering, H. H. Fair, R. C. Force, B. C. Heacock, P. E. Holt, George L. Bell, C. Parker Holt, J. A. McGregor and O. L. Starr. Executive committee, C. L. Best, H. H. Fair and R. C. Force. Executive officers: C. L. Best, chairman of the board; R. C. Force, president; B. C. Heacock, first vice president; P. E. Holt, vice president; J. V. Munro, vice president in charge of purchases; O. L. Starr vice president in charge of manufacture; G. L. Bell, second vice president in charge of sales, and secretary; M. M. Baker, vice president in charge of eastern sales; I. E. Jones, vice president in charge of western sales; C. Parker Holt, vice president in charge of export sales; H. P. Mee, vice president and treasurer; H. B. McKinley, J. T. Rye, A. H. Cumming, P. J. Lojo and E. A. McAllister, assistant treasurers; E. Bornstein, comptroller. The executive offices of the company are at San Leandro, with sales offices at San Leandro and Peoria, while a branch office is maintained in New York City and a distributing warehouse at Albany, New York. The progressive policy of the company has been demonstrated when, due to lowered costs resulting from increased volume of sales and efficiency in its manufacturing operations, the board of directors has on several occasions authorized substantial reductions in the selling prices of "Caterpillar" Tractors of all models. These reductions were made in keeping with the fixed policy of the company to build ever better "Caterpillar" Tractors and sell them at lowest possible prices to a steadily increasing number of satisfied users. The growth and development of this great industry has been of immeasurable benefit to Alameda county, giving employment to many expert workmen, whose payroll contributes in large measure to the prosperity of the community, and with each "Caterpillar" Tractor has gone the name of San Leandro, so that the people of the community have just reason for pride in this institution.

From:
History of Alameda County, California
BY: Frank Clinton Merritt
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Chicago, Ill 1928


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