1950s

When Caterpillar made the move from farm equipment to earthmoving equipment in the 1950s, toy manufacturer REBELL made plastic toys to mark the occasion. It was a fun way to signify the shift – a shift that still defines our company as it is today. 

Our customers’ projects in the ’50s demanded tough equipment that came with superior, localized service. It was a demand that we were prepared to meet. 

Starting in 1951, we introduced our first self-propelled wheel tractor-scraper, which was designed for a variety of earthmoving applications. Not long after, in 1952, customers could get our new No.6 shovel (you know it as the track loader today) – a rugged machine for land clearing, digging, grading, truck loading, slope work and more. Made for tough jobs, rough ground and tight spaces, it saved them time and money. 

Just two years later, we introduced the D9 Tractor. Walt Dunbar, who oversaw the assembly of the first D9 production model, remembered fondly, “That first D9 was really a great machine. The way it was engineered, the way it was planned, the way it was assembled – I've never seen anything like it." Read more of Walt’s story below. 

Another mark of the ’50s? We went abroad with the formation of our first overseas subsidiary in the United Kingdom, and by the end of the decade, we expanded manufacturing to locations in Europe, Australia and South America. And, from building modern-day Brazil to exploring the deep cold of Antarctica, our customers broke boundaries around the world with our products. (Fun fact: Cat® track-type tractors were the first tractors in Antarctica!)

See more of the decade in the video here and meet some amazing people who contributed to Caterpillar below.

1950 Caterpillar forms its first overseas subsidiary – Caterpillar Tractor Co. Ltd. in England.
1950 Caterpillar introduces its first self-propelled wheel tractor-scraper.   
1951 H.H. Fair is named Chairman of the Board.   
1952 Caterpillar introduces the first integrated track loader. 
1952 Members of Caterpillar’s Peoria Cats championship basketball team play on the U.S. Olympic Basketball Team and win the gold medal. 
1954 Caterpillar introduces the D9 Tractor.
1954 L.B. Neumiller is named Chairman of the Board.
1955 Caterpillar supplies specially designed equipment to the U.S. government for Operation Deep Freeze.

Meet the People

Patsy Miller Patsy Miller

Meet the Groundbreaker - Patsy Miller

Patsy Miller was known as the “Designing Woman.”  She was one of just a few female civil engineers in the United States and the only female staff engineer at Caterpillar. She managed engineering work relative to interior structures, and kept company property maps and statistical records. She was responsible for providing grades and elevation for any maintenance and steel construction for facilities in East Peoria, Illinois. 

Here is a profile of Patsy from a 1950s employee newsletter.

Bill Blackie Bill Blackie

Meet the Strategist - Bill Blackie

William “Bill” Blackie was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1906. After studying accounting, business law and economics, he spent five years as a chartered accountant's apprentice before becoming an accountant himself in 1930. In that same year he came to the United States and was employed by an accounting firm of national prominence before joining Caterpillar in 1939 as controller. He was elected a vice president in 1944, an executive vice president in 1954, a director in 1958, and president in 1962. He became our fifth chairman of the board in 1966.

One of Blackie’s most significant legacies was the transformation of Caterpillar into a truly multinational corporation. Hear in his own words how prior to World War II, Caterpillar equipment was exported from Peoria, Illinois, to our customers across the globe. It was Blackie’s idea that Caterpillar should now “…sell, manufacture, and employ in several different countries.” But such a monumental shift in operations didn’t occur simply for its own sake. Blackie’s reasoning for this evolution was highly strategic. He said, “Caterpillar didn’t do it for the purpose of becoming multinational. It did it to first secure markets which it already held but to be in position to defend against competition and expand those markets which would be difficult to do it from the United States. Being a multinational company provided Caterpillar with the ability to globally compete.” By 1970, sales outside of the U.S. were greater than those inside the U.S. for the first time in company history.

In addition to being a dedicated leader and a keen strategist, Blackie was also a mentor to employees and a true citizen of the world. He often talked about what it meant to be a Caterpillar employee, not just in the U.S. but across the globe, once saying that, no matter where we are, “We want people who, as a natural code of personal conduct, like to pursue excellence in all they do. The success of Caterpillar is based on the work and ability of its people. That is what we call Caterpillar People.”

Worthen Hollis Worthen Hollis

Meet the Maker - Worthen Hollis

The Caterpillar Foundry is a place where blueprints are turned into molds and cores, and where molds and cores are turned into gray iron castings. These castings, when assembled together, become the sturdy iron body of an engine. In the 1950s the Foundry was in East Peoria, and it was staffed by a dedicated team of men and women working together to give shape, strength and ruggedness to the iron parts.

Worthen Hollis, a pneumatic chipper, joined this talented group of employees in 1946, and in 1953 he sat down with the editors of the Caterpillar employee publication “News & Views” to talk about what it was like to work in the Foundry:

Castings aren't 'done' just because they're poured and look like castings. They've got a lot of sand and fins on them that must be cleaned off before the foundry calls them finished. In the cleaning room, it's our job to get those castings finished. I'm a pneumatic chipper, and that means I use a chipper – an air hammer – to chip off the fins or rough sections of the casting.

The casting comes to us after the swing grinder and the sandblaster are through with it. The swing grinder takes the casting right after it comes from the shake-out. He grinds off the real heavy, coarse fins.

The sandblaster then cleans it as much as he can in his sandblasting room. He shoots steel pellets at it with an air gun that knock off a lot of dirt and rough pieces.

There still are a lot of rough spots and little fins on the casting. That's where I come in.

Well when we get the casting, we put the hammer chisel – our chipper – to it to get it as smooth as we can. There are lots of metal chips flying all over, so we wear leather gloves and aprons, canvas sleeves, and a heavy rubberized mitt. My safety glasses have saved my eyes hundreds of times.

For smaller castings there are hand chippers who chisel off fins with hand chisels. We both do the same kind of work. It's just a matter of size.

When we're done, the casting goes to another sandblaster to finish smoothly. Then the casting is checked all over for its finishes.

With these things done, the casting is ready to leave the Foundry. It goes to the paint shop to be sprayed. From there on, it's not long before it's part of a tractor.

Walt Dunbar Walt Dunbar

Meet the Inventor - Walt Dunbar

Walt Dunbar had worked at Caterpillar since 1940, and he had seen countless innovations in the Caterpillar product line, but nothing quite compared to the earthmoving leviathan he was about to help create. In 1955 Dunbar was the superintendent of Erection and Testing in Building LL in East Peoria, and in May of that year he was called upon to supervise what was the most important development in Caterpillar track-type tractors since the launch of the first diesel machine in 1931: Walt would be personally responsible for overseeing the assembly of the first D9 production model.

The D9 was a 29-ton monster of a machine, making it the largest and most powerful dozer in the world by a substantial margin, and it represented years of large tractor research and development by Caterpillar people such as Walt. His team described the new D9 as a "light-footed giant" that was used on jobs that were too tough and too rugged for other tractors. The D9 was made to be used in virtually every tough track-type tractor application around the world, particularly in general construction, logging, pipelaying, mining and quarrying.

One of the main innovations found in the D9 was the use of a turbocharger in the diesel engine. Powered by exhaust gases, the turbocharger provided additional horsepower and quieter operation that led to greater operator comfort.

With the first D9 off the line and on its way to a customer, Walt and his team felt a great sense of pride and achievement that must have been shared by all Caterpillar employees that day. Chuck Woodley, vice president, offered his congratulations to the team: "To Walt and all Caterpillar employees at all plants who had any part in the production of the D9, I extend my warmest commendation. Such smooth coordination and cooperation throughout its development and production reaffirms the great Caterpillar tradition.” 

Walt’s Caterpillar career would lead him to many more opportunities and cities, including Glasgow, Scotland; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Mossville, Illinois; and Davenport, Iowa. He retired in 1988 after 48 years of service to the company. But when it was all over, what he said he’d never forget was his time making history with the Caterpillar D9.

See the Artifacts

Dealer Serviceman toolkit

c. 1950 - Our dealers provide expert service and knowledgeable advice. Dealer servicemen used toolboxes like this one to store their tools used on job sites and in facilities.

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TOY MOTORGRADER AND WHEEL TRACTOR SCRAPER

When Caterpillar made the move from farm equipment to earthmoving equipment in the 1950s, toy manufacturer REBELL made these plastic toys to mark the occasion.

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EMD China from Dining Car

This piece of china from the 1950s commemorates similar pieces used in dining cars pulled by an Electro-Motive Diesel locomotive engines. Electro-Motive is a Caterpillar brand and the only diesel engine manufacturer of its size to have produced more than 70,000 engines.

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Satisfied Customer

Our customers come from all around the world, as in this image of a Caterpillar customer posing with his trusty motor grader in Spain.

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