Caterpillar entered the 1940s celebrating 15 years in business. While still a young company by the world’s standard, Caterpillar already was known for a reliable (and growing) product paired with first-class customer support, and an iconic color.
With the ’40s there were many more firsts to come – the world was changing. And with it, Caterpillar changed too. In fact, the company kicked off the decade with one notable product introduction: the first Caterpillar wheel tractor with matching wagon product line.
The newly introduced tractor, as well as other Caterpillar products, supported the Allies during World War II. That war also brought great changes to the workforce, particularly in the United States, where American women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers, especially in industries involved in war production. Companies like Caterpillar heavily recruited women workers to replace men who had been sent off to fight in the war, and women took an equal place with men in the factory. A year after the beginning of the war, employment at Caterpillar rose from 11,000 to over 20,000 people, and in 1943 alone, 3,000 women worked in jobs on the factory floor.
Breaking down the barrier to the shop floor was just the first step in a long march toward equality in the workplace. In the latter half of the 20th century, pioneering women at Caterpillar found success in positions that would have been unavailable to them before the war.
As the decade progressed and regions around the world built new infrastructure, Caterpillar designed and built more product to support our customers. In the mid-40s, the first company-designed-and-built bulldozer blade and the first company-designed-and-built pull-type scraper were introduced. Those new products, along with many other existing products, were put to work by our customers on major projects around the world like the construction of more than 70,000 miles of highways throughout the United States and construction of the Bhakra Dam in India.
After the war, the DW10 was one of Caterpillar's first new products after World War II and the famous Caterpillar bulldozer blade was introduced in 1945.
See more of the decade in the video here and meet some amazing people who contributed to Caterpillar below.
|1941||Caterpillar introduces its first wheel tractor as well as a matching wagon product line.|
|1941||Caterpillar products support the Allies during World War II.|
|1944||Caterpillar machines help start the construction of more than 70,000 miles of highways throughout the United States.|
|1945||Caterpillar introduces the first company-designed-and-built bulldozer blade.|
|1946||Caterpillar introduces the first company-designed-and-built pull-type scraper.|
|1948||Caterpillar machines help start the construction the Bhakra Dam in India.|
In 1941 Louis Neumiller, who began his career as a stenographer with one of Caterpillar’s predecessor companies, was elected president of the company by the board of directors. He inherited a company that was in the process of fully mobilizing for war.
When war came to the U.S. in December of 1941, the U.S. government asked Caterpillar to increase production to a level higher than the company had ever achieved before. It was an extremely ambitious goal, but under Neumiller’s leadership Caterpillar rose to the occasion.
From 1942 to 1945, Caterpillar operated seven days a week, doubled its workforce, placed women on jobs in research, the foundry, and the assembly lines, manufactured special products, trained and sponsored enlisted men, and built approximately 51,000 track-type tractors for the military. Caterpillar machines were sent across the globe and performed admirably, supporting the U.S. and its allies on every continent except Antarctica.
After the war, Caterpillar machines and the parts to maintain them were used to rebuild war-ravaged Europe, Northern Africa and Asia. There was no global post-war sales slump for Caterpillar.
Neumiller would later become chairman of the board in 1954. He retired in 1962 after spending 47 years with the company.
Henry Warfield was first employed by Caterpillar in the East Peoria Foundry in 1942. His job was grinding molds to a smooth finish in the cleaning room.
In 1943, he became Army Private Henry M. Warfield. Known as the soldier with the big smile, he was shipped out to basic training in La Junta, Colorado. After his military service ended, Henry went back to work in the Foundry. His service time was counted as Caterpillar service.
In 1959, Henry became involved in community as he was elected to the board of directors of the Peoria Community Chest and Council. The mission of the Community Chest was to help fellow employees who have experienced extraordinary life events.
Politics was in Henry’s blood. He won the Democratic nomination as an alderman for the City of Peoria in 1961. He would also go on to be a labor leader on the Executive Board of the local United Auto Workers (UAW).
In 1974, Caterpillar and the local UAW both supported passage of a state fair housing law that would apply to all parties to a real estate transaction. The bill made it a violation of law to refuse to sell, lease or rent property solely because of race, creed, color or ancestry. Caterpillar and the UAW endorsed the passage of the bill in person to the state legislature at the Illinois State Capitol. Henry was just one of the Caterpillar employees who represented Caterpillar and the local union. Henry made it clear at the session that the fair housing bill was endorsed by both the company and union and they stood together supporting it.
Although Henry is no longer with us, we thank him for his service.
Standing side-by-side with men, women at Caterpillar worked on all aspects of production and assembly. Doris Porzelius, frequently recognized for her quality work as an acetylene welder, is just one of many examples. Virginia Spalding, who was employed in Purchasing, was the first woman employee to receive an award from the Labor-Management Committee for a suggestion to improve plant efficiency. Others worked to produce Howitzer cartridges, radial tank engines, track-type tractors, generator sets and motor graders.
Olive Pinos became the first woman to work in the research laboratory in Building W in East Peoria. She was said to be an expert with a slide rule and created first-class blueprints. Olive said she enjoyed her work immensely and that her co-workers “were a grand group of fellows.”
Lois Garton became Caterpillar’s first woman chemist after receiving her degree in chemistry from the University of Oklahoma. She worked in research and development in East Peoria and later at the Technical Center in Mossville. Ever the comedian, Lois once advertised to her co-workers that she had developed a new test to verify if a diamond was real. It seems that a diamond pressed against a piece of dry ice will emit a peculiar sound, whereas an artificial diamond would not. She told all new brides to bring in their diamonds to be tested.
Robert “Bob” Eckhart, like so many of our early employees, saw a great deal of history working for the company. He was born in Peoria, Illinois, on October 12, 1917, and in 1940 he went to work for Caterpillar in the East Peoria plant. In 1941 the United States entered World War II, and Caterpillar was immediately recognized as an essential business. The efficiency of every process needed to be maximized for Caterpillar to meet the aggressive production requirements set by the U.S. government.
In his own words, Bob believed that “More machines saved more lives,” and in 1942 he told his supervisor he had some ideas about how to make his work more efficient. A machine repairman at the time, Bob suggested a tool for removing spindle bushings from the heads of multiple drills without removing the drill heads themselves. This innovative idea significantly reduced the time required for the process by 50% and led to Bob being one of four Caterpillar employees honored by the War Production Board for important suggestions to aid the war effort.
Bob stayed with Caterpillar long after the war was over and retired from the company in 1980 after 40 years of service. In addition to his time as a machine repairman, he also worked as a service department instructor and copy writer. He wrote many service manuals for our machines.