Caterpillar and World War I

April 12, 2017

Holt Caterpillar Co. and C.L. Best Tractor Co. probably never would have merged if it wasn’t for World War I. 

Early in the war, Holt sold tractors to Britain and France for help hauling equipment and occasionally troops. After the United States joined World War I one hundred years ago, in April 1917, plant manager Murray Baker pursued a contract to supply tractors for the U.S. military.

Watch the short film in this article to see rare footage of Murray Baker showing Caterpillar machines to U.S. General John “Black Jack” Pershing and other members of the United States Armed Forces.

Holt’s contract with the government is in our company archives. There’s a note with it that says to build as many tractors as the company could.

“And that’s what (Holt) did,” says Corporate Heritage Services Supervisor Lee Fosburgh.

While Holt focused on the war effort, companies like C.L. Best captured the domestic market. Following the war, the two companies needed each other. Best had the domestic market Holt looked for, and Holt had a worldwide reputation and the "Caterpillar" name.

To learn more about how Caterpillar’s history was shaped by World War I, check out these two articles written by Chris Kaergard of the Peoria Journal Star: