May 2, 2016
In 1941, the U. S. Northern Regional Laboratory, or “Ag Lab” opened its doors in Peoria -- and Caterpillar was there. The art deco building was built with the mission to carry on the work of increasing the industrial utilization of farm products. Upon opening, the Ag Lab had a staff of 250 chemist-employees, headed by Dr. O. E. May. The Peoria laboratory was one of four regional laboratories with the intent to conduct research and develop new scientific and technical uses of farm products. The lab also worked to identify new and extended outlets for farm commodities and products. The Peoria lab served Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Nebraska, North and South Dakota and Wisconsin.
An interesting side-light on the laboratory's completion occurred during the heavy grading of the grounds in preparation to landscape. The contractor used a Cat® D4 track-type tractor equipped with a bulldozer for leveling.
As an informal experiment – “just for the fun of it" - Dr. P. B. Jacobs, Senior Chemical Engineer, asked that the tractor's tank be drained of diesel fuel and filled with crude soybean oil which had been obtained, fresh pressed, from the Allied Mills Company plant in Peoria.
The D4 started instantaneously and resumed its leveling duties with equal power. Combustion was complete, as no smoke issued from the exhaust. Dr. May was not at all surprised with the result, but both he and Dr. Jacobs watched the operation with considerable interest for some time, later inspecting the tractor engine closely. "Possibility of the production of agricultural motor fuels will be intensively investigated by the laboratory," Dr. May stated. "We intend to discover the facts concerning the chemical and engineering problems connected with the utilization of grains or other farm products in the production of such fuels, their behavior in internal combustion engines and the broad economies of their production, distribution and use."
The Ag Lab is still located on University Avenue in Peoria, Ill. and we are proud to be part of its past.