November 7, 2022
Today we pause to remember those in uniform and call to mind their courage in defending honor, duty and country. In celebration, we recount the story of two employees – a married couple – who made a difference to Caterpillar and their country.
Bob and Virginia Pierson created a Caterpillar legacy during the 1940s, and their granddaughter Lindsey G. is now a benefit investment manager for Caterpillar’s Finance Services Division in Deerfield, Illinois.
“I remember hearing my grandparents talk about their days at Caterpillar – my grandfather, Bob Pierson, was a second-shift technician until he joined the Army in 1943. With her husband deployed overseas, my grandmother, Virginia, was one of 3,000 women placed in Caterpillar factory jobs in 1943, doing work formerly performed by men. She was a real-life Rosie the Riveter,” Lindsey said.
Bob Pierson was a member of the 497th Heavy Shop Company. It was the first Army unit in American history organized by a manufacturing company and staffed primarily by company employees. The platoon was formed when U.S. government officials called on Caterpillar to form a unit of experienced troops to work on equipment to construct Ledo Road. The road was an overland supply-delivery route built between India and China and instrumental in the outcome of World War II (WWII).
Caterpillar recruited volunteers for the 497th by distributing booklets. Enlistment wasn’t restricted to Caterpillar employees, but 158 of the 191 selected for deployment were Caterpillar employees. One of those was Bob Pierson. The troops completed a month of basic training, several weeks of regular training and heavy shop work, then shipped overseas to Burma in September 1943.
With Bob overseas, Virginia began work at a Caterpillar factory in Peoria, Illinois. Before the war, women held only clerical office positions at the company. At the peak of war production, however, women comprised 30% of Caterpillar’s workforce – more than 4,000 of these performed factory jobs.
Women like Virginia enabled the company to continue producing its main product line, the D7 track-type tractor – known in that era as the “Boss of the Beach.” From 1942 – 1945, the company produced nearly 51,000 D7s, considered Caterpillar’s most significant contribution to the U.S. WWII efforts.
Troops from the 497th Heavy Shop Company began repatriation in December 1945, and when Bob returned home, Virginia left Caterpillar to join him. Contrary to popular belief, many women kept working at their Caterpillar jobs after the war ended, paving the way for women to build diverse careers at the company.