Note: This column is in the July TT&C 2020 issue.
Caterpillar’s machines are probably the most replicated of the construction equipment, and with good reason. Caterpillar is an American icon and perhaps now, a global icon.
On Nov. 25, 1904, Benjamin Holt publicly demonstrated his innovatively unique design of a steam tractor that moved on self-laying tracks, instead of the traditional wheels. A photographer who was covering the public unveiling of this odd-looking machine commented that it looked like a giant caterpillar moving down the street. Benjamin thought it was a fitting description and one of the world’s best-known brand names was born—Caterpillar.
Benjamin Holt developed his own version of the steam traction engine in 1890. He patented his new innovation on his tractors, which were steering clutches. This was just one of the 47 patented inventions he developed between 1889 and 1920.
The problem with the steam tractors of the time was that they could not be used in much of California’s soft boggy soil. His answer to the problem was his self-laying tracks. The first machine was a 40-horsepower Holt 77. The tracks were wooden blocks bolted to chains riding on a series of wheels. The test run was a success, opening a new era in farming and construction.