Our History

Over the last century we’ve grown with our customers. We’ve changed together as the world has changed: creating, building, problem solving, innovating, testing, servicing and improving. When customers choose our products, services and solutions today, they also gain nearly 100 years of experience and expertise. 

 

Our Founders: Holt & Best

Early on, Holt and Best were competitors. But, together, these innovators led to the success of Caterpillar and track-type tractors of today.   

In a time when horses powered infrastructure and agriculture, Caterpillar co-founders Benjamin Holt and C.L. Best created products that transformed the way our customers worked. Holt invented a steam tractor in 1890 to keep farmers working longer than horses could. Best responded to customer needs with a focus on early gasoline technology. 

Meet the Founders

C.L. Best
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C.L. Best is considered one of Caterpillar’s founders and our first chairman of the board.

Benjamin Holt
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Benjamin Holt owned over 45 different patents and his greatest invention was the first commercially successfully track-type tractor – still part of our product line today.

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The “Best” Legacy: C.L. Best, Caterpillar’s first chairman, helped create one of the most significant tractors in our company’s history – the Sixty.

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The Caterpillar Sixty track-type tractor was one of the company’s most successful track-type tractors. Its innovations in engineering can be found in the DNA of today’s lineup of Cat dozers.

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Pioneer, innovator and genius, Benjamin Holt’s legacy of innovation helped define the company we are today.

C.L. Best
Benjamin Holt
C.L. Best's Legacy of Achievement and Innovation
Celebrating the 100-Year Anniversary of the Caterpillar Sixty Track-Type Tractor
Celebrating Caterpillar Co-Founder Benjamin Holt
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Caterpillar’s origin story started on the day the wheels came off, Thanksgiving Day 1904. That’s when Benjamin Holt invented the first commercially successful track-type tractor and how it led to our name – Caterpillar.

From Wheels to Tracks | The Caterpillar Machine That Changed Everything

 

The Emergence of Tracks – and the Name “Caterpillar”

In 1904, Benjamin Holt replaced the rear wheels from a Holt steam tractor with a pair of tracks to help Caterpillar farmers deal with soft soil. During a field test in 1905, the company photographer exclaimed that the machine crawled like a big … Caterpillar.

Full Story

From Steam to Gasoline

While Holt was famous for developing the tracks, C.L. Best focused his inventions on early gasoline and undercarriage technology improving product reliability and performance. In fact, some of these early features remain part of today’s Caterpillar tractor DNA.

Benjamin Holt
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Benjamin Holt is standing in front of his experimental gasoline powered track-type tractor. Quickly realizing the limitation of steam power, Benjamin Holt built an experimental gasoline tractor in 1906.

C.L. Best
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C.L. Best Operating a Best 8-16 "Pony" track-type tractor in 1914. This is the only known photograph of Best operating one of his machines.

Benjamin Holt
C.L. Best
The first Caterpillar product line was a combination of Holt and Best machines. Here you can see a rare photo of the entire product line at an early CONEXPO (then known as The Road Show) in 1926.
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The first Caterpillar product line was a combination of Holt and Best machines. Here you can see a rare photo of the entire product line at an early CONEXPO (then known as The Road Show) in 1926.

The former Holt plant in East Peoria became the company’s largest manufacturing center after the 1925 merger.
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The former Holt plant in East Peoria became the company’s largest manufacturing center after the 1925 merger.

Holt made a number of track-type products for the U.S. military during the war.
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Holt made a number of track-type products for the U.S. military during the war.

The first Caterpillar product line was a combination of Holt and Best machines. Here you can see a rare photo of the entire product line at an early CONEXPO (then known as The Road Show) in 1926.
The former Holt plant in East Peoria became the company’s largest manufacturing center after the 1925 merger.
Holt made a number of track-type products for the U.S. military during the war.

 

The Merger: Forming the Caterpillar Tractor Co.

Following World War Ithe Holt Caterpillar Co. and C.L. Best Tractor Co. combined their strengths to provide customers with innovative products and a strong dealer network. Today, our dealer network operates on the same principles to help our customers do the work. The old saying remains true — buy the iron, get the company.

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The Great Depression Leads to Innovation

Although the company was feeling the effects of the Great Depression, Caterpillar invested in products and technologies that are still important to our business today. We expanded our product line to offer more solutions to build, power and connect the world, including the first true motor grader (the auto patrol).

To provide customers with more power at less cost, leaders like C.L. Best invested in diesel technology. In October 1931, we began producing the Caterpillar Diesel Sixty Tractor. Within a few more years, we were the world’s largest producer of diesel engines in the world.

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This 1928 prototype diesel engine evolved over time to become 'Old Betsy.'
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This 1928 prototype diesel engine evolved over time to become 'Old Betsy.'

Auto patrol paving roads in 1931.
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Auto patrol paving roads in 1931.

This 1928 prototype diesel engine evolved over time to become 'Old Betsy.'
Auto patrol paving roads in 1931.
1931 – Caterpillar changed the paint color of its machines from gray to Hi-Way Yellow.
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1931 – Caterpillar changed the paint color of its machines from gray to Hi-Way Yellow.

Caterpillar dealer in New York State repainting a Caterpillar Twenty track-type tractor gray to Hi-Way Yellow in 1931.
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Caterpillar dealer in New York State repainting a Caterpillar Twenty track-type tractor gray to Hi-Way Yellow in 1931.

1931 – Caterpillar changed the paint color of its machines from gray to Hi-Way Yellow.
Caterpillar dealer in New York State repainting a Caterpillar Twenty track-type tractor gray to Hi-Way Yellow in 1931.

 

We Haven’t Always Been Yellow

The need for better visibility on road construction sites led to our colorful change from gray to hi-way yellow in 1931.

A historic innovation started as an experiment, this time involving paint and color. The goal was to find the color that would be visible at the furthest distance by day and night — yet be pleasing to the eye. Yellow was chosen, and paint specialists created the distinctive Caterpillar yellow for exclusive identification of our machines.

On December 7, 1931, gray paint and red trim were replaced with hi-way yellow and black trim. Today, we call our paint color Caterpillar Yellow.

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A Growing Product Line

The growth of automobiles created the need for a better road system and expanding our product line to meet the needs of customers.

Caterpillar’s original product line consisted of one product with five models. Since then, our product line has evolved to meet growing customer needs. Although our machines were originally created for agriculture, our customers found a use for them in building road and infrastructure.

With the development of “Old Betsy,” the first Caterpillar diesel engine, we evolved to become a leader in the power industry. We continued to innovate and expand our engine line to improve our products, provide OEM solutions and power generation.  

Although you could find our products at use in mining applications dating back to Holt & Best, as the world economy evolved, miners needed more power and larger equipment to make mining more economical. To meet their needs, we started expanding our product line – offering larger and more powerful machines like the wheel loader, off-highway trucks, larger tractors and hydraulic excavators.

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Cat No.14 in Color | Celebrating our Motor Grader History in Color

Customers had been adding dozer blades to our machines going all the way back to the days of Holt and Best, but we produced the first dozer blade specifically engineered for our products in 1945.
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Customers had been adding dozer blades to our machines going all the way back to the days of Holt and Best, but we produced the first dozer blade specifically engineered for our products in 1945.

769 off-highway truck
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First announced in 1962, the 769 off-highway truck was another first for the company, kicking off almost 60 years of service for the world’s mining industries.

Another Caterpillar first from the era was an integrated wheel tractor scraper.
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Another Caterpillar first from the era was an integrated wheel tractor scraper.

Caterpillar’s first hydraulic excavator model, the 225, hard at work in the 1970s.
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Caterpillar’s first hydraulic excavator model, the 225, hard at work in the 1970s.

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The 1950s and 1960s were a period of tremendous expansion in our product line. Take a look at some of these “new” products in action with a montage of vintage film from the era.

Cat No.14 in Color | Celebrating our Motor Grader History in Color
Customers had been adding dozer blades to our machines going all the way back to the days of Holt and Best, but we produced the first dozer blade specifically engineered for our products in 1945.
769 off-highway truck
Another Caterpillar first from the era was an integrated wheel tractor scraper.
Caterpillar’s first hydraulic excavator model, the 225, hard at work in the 1970s.
Historical Cat® Products in Action
Caterpillar engine powering a diesel locomotive in c. 1935.
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Caterpillar engine powering a diesel locomotive in c. 1935.

Caterpillar D7700 diesel engine powering a mine in c. 1939.
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Caterpillar D7700 diesel engine powering a mine in c. 1939.

Caterpillar advertisement featuring diesel engine applications for the oil fields, c. 1940.
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Caterpillar advertisement featuring diesel engine applications for the oil fields, c. 1940.

Cat 3516 Generator Set for back-up power in New York City in 1997.
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Cat 3516 Generator Set for back-up power in New York City in 1997.

Early oil field applications for Caterpillar machines, 1925.
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Early oil field applications for Caterpillar machines, 1925.

Caterpillar engine powering a diesel locomotive in c. 1935.
Caterpillar D7700 diesel engine powering a mine in c. 1939.
Caterpillar advertisement featuring diesel engine applications for the oil fields, c. 1940.
Cat 3516 Generator Set for back-up power in New York City in 1997.
Early oil field applications for Caterpillar machines, 1925.

 

Powering

The first production Caterpillar diesel engine, the D9900, was manufactured in October 1931 after 18 months of design and testing. Over $1 million (U.S.) was spent on research and development — a considerable investment in those days. Originally designed to power the Caterpillar Sixty track-type tractor, this engine cemented the company as a pioneer in building vehicular diesel engines. In 1931, Caterpillar created a separate engine group and expanded its engine development to areas like generator sets and marine power

Today, Cat engines are commonly found in electric power generation. Other uses for Cat power include engines for the petroleum industry, marine, locomotives, agricultural equipment, industrial power, construction equipment and many more. The diesel engine's virtues of efficiency, dependability and simplicity were what prompted Caterpillar to pioneer its use in mobile equipment sixty years ago. These same attributes are characteristic of the Cat engines of today.

Building for Today and Tomorrow

Our products and services have helped support infrastructure projects that built our modern world.

Building roads, bridges, runaways and seaports are vital parts of our modern infrastructure system. Since our beginning, our products have helped support some of the world’s biggest infrastructure project.

Our customers have relied on Caterpillar to get the work done. They used our products to help bring water to cities by building water transportation systems like the LA aqueduct with Holt machines. They built countless miles of roads like the U.S. interstate system and Bagdad highway to allow for faster movement of people and products. They constructed the Panama Canal to improve the speed of goods and cargo in sea transport and helped do the work on subsequent expansions. They’ve built dams, including the Hoover Dam, one of the greatest engineering marvels of the world. Our gensets even helped power the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.

The Alaska Highway
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Working in treacherous weather conditions, Cat equipment helps construct the ALCAN Highway. The 1,700 mile road was built to connect the continental United States to Alaska through Canada.

Cat products hard at work on the Interstate Highway System in 1959.
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Cat products hard at work on the Interstate Highway System in 1959.

Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia, inspects a construction site on the Jhimma road, the longest road in the nation. The project was completed by Caterpillar Thirty tractors and graders.
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Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia, inspects a construction site on the Jhimma road, the longest road in the nation. The project was completed by Caterpillar Thirty tractors and graders.

Cat dozer working on the site of the Itaipu dam, located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. Built between 1971 and 1984, the dam set a world record for hydroelectric power production in 2016.
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Cat dozer working on the site of the Itaipu dam, located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. Built between 1971 and 1984, the dam set a world record for hydroelectric power production in 2016.

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See our products in action supporting some of history’s greatest ideas.

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Back in 1931, German construction company Hochtief AG purchased ten of our first twenty-five diesel machines, the legendary Diesel Sixty track-type tractor, to build the Albert Canal in Belgium.

The Alaska Highway
Cat products hard at work on the Interstate Highway System in 1959.
Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia, inspects a construction site on the Jhimma road, the longest road in the nation. The project was completed by Caterpillar Thirty tractors and graders.
Cat dozer working on the site of the Itaipu dam, located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. Built between 1971 and 1984, the dam set a world record for hydroelectric power production in 2016.
See our products in action supporting some of history’s greatest ideas.
Caterpillar Diesel Sixties Help Build Belgium's Albert Canal | Tracks Around the World
Caterpillar’s acquisition of the Russell Grader company in 1927 helped enable the production of the industry’s first true motor grader in 1931.
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Caterpillar’s acquisition of the Russell Grader company in 1927 helped enable the production of the industry’s first true motor grader in 1931.

“Old Betsy” is the name of the first diesel engine ever produced by Caterpillar. Today it is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection.
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“Old Betsy” is the name of the first diesel engine ever produced by Caterpillar. Today it is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection.

Pictured here is machine number 1C3, the first machine produced on the assembly line.
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Art Rosen (standing) was instrumental in the development of our first diesel-powered tractor, the Diesel Sixty. Pictured is the first machine produced on the assembly line.

D10 development team with the first production model off the line.
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The elevated sprocket tractor keeps the drive mechanism out of the dirt, is easier to maintain and more efficient, trouble-free operation. Pictured: D10 development team with the first production model.

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In 1931 Caterpillar introduced the industries first true Motor Grader: The Auto Patrol. Enjoy a celebration of the product line with a video of rare colorized motor grader images.

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This short video is a clip from the 1977 introduction of the elevated sprocket D10. Notice how the machine abruptly turns its side to the viewer, revealing the revolutionary new design.

Caterpillar’s acquisition of the Russell Grader company in 1927 helped enable the production of the industry’s first true motor grader in 1931.
“Old Betsy” is the name of the first diesel engine ever produced by Caterpillar. Today it is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection.
Pictured here is machine number 1C3, the first machine produced on the assembly line.
D10 development team with the first production model off the line.
Cat No.14 in Color | Celebrating our Motor Grader History in Color
Clip from Promotional Film for Cat® D10 | 1977

 

Creating Solutions through Innovation

Dating back to Holt & Best, we’ve continued to bring innovative solutions to help our customers succeed.

Since the very beginning, we have made a name for ourselves by developing innovative solutions. In fact, Holt and Best had over 100 patents. The track-type tractor and the first diesel engine “Old Betsy” are just a few of our early solutions that changed the industries we serve. Even our iconic yellow paint is an indirect nod to the history of innovation. 

Customers continued to rely on us to develop innovative solutions to get the work done. Since our earliest days, Caterpillar has provided products and services that benefit our customers, continually improving the quality of the environment and communities where we live and work while helping build a better, more sustainable world. From early autonomy with remote-controlled machines to today's fully-autonomous vehicles, we have continued to bring innovative solutions that have helped our customers succeed.

Global Growth

Our equipment has been helping customers do the work around the world since the early 1900s. 

The post-World War II construction boom in the U.S., Europe and Asia translated into rapid growth and led to Caterpillar expanding our operations around the globe to better serve our customers. In the 1950s, we started creating overseas subsidiaries to manufacture our machines and parts for local markets. At that time, we became a multinational company, and our equipment was at work on every continent, including Antarctica

Our first overseas plant opened in Glasgow, Scotland in 1958
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Our first overseas plant opened in Glasgow, Scotland in 1958. The plant manufactured parts for Caterpillar machines in Europe.

The first Caterpillar tractor produced outside of the United States was built at the Leicester, United Kingdom, plant in 1959.
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The first Caterpillar tractor produced outside of the United States was built at the Leicester, United Kingdom, plant in 1959.

Motor graders produced at our Australia plant in the 1960s.
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Motor graders produced at our Australia plant in the 1960s.

Special “low ground pressure” (LGP) tractor built for work in Antarctica, 1956. The wider tracks of these machines helped distribute weight more evenly and kept them from falling through the ice.
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Special “low ground pressure” (LGP) tractor built for work in Antarctica, 1956. The wider tracks of these machines helped distribute weight more evenly and kept them from falling through the ice.

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From agriculture to mining, construction to rails, our products have been working on the African continent for more than 100 years. In fact, one of our oldest dealers is from Tunisia.

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Operation Deep Freeze was the code name for a series of Antarctic exploration missions conducted by the United States in the 1950s, and these missions required special machines from Caterpillar.

Two of the first pipelayers sold to China
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Two of the first pipelayers sold to China

Our first overseas plant opened in Glasgow, Scotland in 1958
The first Caterpillar tractor produced outside of the United States was built at the Leicester, United Kingdom, plant in 1959.
Motor graders produced at our Australia plant in the 1960s.
Special “low ground pressure” (LGP) tractor built for work in Antarctica, 1956. The wider tracks of these machines helped distribute weight more evenly and kept them from falling through the ice.
Cat® Products Working in Africa | Tracks Around the World
Caterpillar Equipment in Antarctica | 1950s
Two of the first pipelayers sold to China
a small office in Peterborough, UK, in 1932,
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Perkins was founded in Peterborough, U.K., in 1932, with the aim of persuading manufacturers in the rapidly growing motor industry to take diesel engines for the cars and trucks they were producing.

Carl Benz
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Founded in Mannheim,Germany in 1871, the automotive pioneer Carl Benz ushered in the era of natural gas engines. Today, MWM is one of the leading brands in the field of gas engines and gensets.

As Russell blade graders were frequently paired with Caterpillar tractors
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As Russell blade graders were frequently paired with Caterpillar tractors. In 1928, Caterpillar Tractor Co. acquired the Russell Grader Manufacturing Company and created the Road Machinery Division.

Acquired in 1927, Russell Grader was a manufacturer of pull graders and grading attachments for track-type tractors. The Russell acquisition allowed us to produce the industry’s first true motor grader in 1931.
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Acquired in 1927, Russell Grader was a manufacturer of pull graders and grading attachments for track-type tractors. The Russell acquisition allowed us to produce the industry’s first true motor grader in 1931.

Caterpillar acquired Solar Turbines International from International Harvester in 1981.
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Caterpillar acquired Solar Turbines International in 1981. Solar designs and manufactures industrial gas turbines.

Founded back in 1966 by Fred Wilson with just six employees, today FG Wilson is a leading global provider of generator sets.
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Founded back in 1966 by Fred Wilson with just six employees, today FG Wilson is a leading global provider of generator sets.

In 1998 Caterpillar acquired Varity Perkins and changed the name to Perkins Engines Company Limited of Peterborough, England.
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Caterpillar acquired the Peterbough, England Perkins brand in 1998. The purchase extended Cat's global position as a full-line producer of diesel and gas reciprocating engines.

In 2005 Caterpillar finalized acquisition of minority ownership of Shandong SEM Machinery Co., Ltd. of Quingzhou, China, and completed its acquisition of SEM in 2008.
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In 2005 Caterpillar finalized acquisition of minority ownership of Shandong SEM Machinery Co., Ltd. of Quingzhou, China, and completed its acquisition of SEM in 2008.

Progress Rail, acquired by Cat in 2006, is the largest integrated diversified provider of rolling stock and infrastructure solutions and technologies for the global rail industry.
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Progress Rail, acquired in 2006, is the largest integrated diversified provider of rolling stock and infrastructure solutions and technologies for the global rail industry.

Caterpillar greatly expanded its mining equipment offerings when it acquired Bucyrus, one of the world’s largest mining equipment manufacturers, in 2011.
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Caterpillar greatly expanded its mining equipment offerings when it acquired Bucyrus, one of the world’s largest mining equipment manufacturers, in 2011.

a small office in Peterborough, UK, in 1932,
Carl Benz
As Russell blade graders were frequently paired with Caterpillar tractors
Acquired in 1927, Russell Grader was a manufacturer of pull graders and grading attachments for track-type tractors. The Russell acquisition allowed us to produce the industry’s first true motor grader in 1931.
Caterpillar acquired Solar Turbines International from International Harvester in 1981.
Founded back in 1966 by Fred Wilson with just six employees, today FG Wilson is a leading global provider of generator sets.
In 1998 Caterpillar acquired Varity Perkins and changed the name to Perkins Engines Company Limited of Peterborough, England.
In 2005 Caterpillar finalized acquisition of minority ownership of Shandong SEM Machinery Co., Ltd. of Quingzhou, China, and completed its acquisition of SEM in 2008.
Progress Rail, acquired by Cat in 2006, is the largest integrated diversified provider of rolling stock and infrastructure solutions and technologies for the global rail industry.
Caterpillar greatly expanded its mining equipment offerings when it acquired Bucyrus, one of the world’s largest mining equipment manufacturers, in 2011.

 

Beyond the Yellow Iron

To help our customer build a better world and meet the needs of a global population, we focused on growing our business through a series of acquisitions to further diversify our products and service offerings.

Caterpillar’s first acquisition dates to 1928, with the buying of the Russell Grader Company. Throughout our history, we’ve acquired companies and technologies to grow our capabilities and expand our product line. Beginning in the 1980s, we purchased several companies to expand our ability to offer innovative solutions for customers in the industries we served. For years, we were providing solutions beyond the tractor line, and in 1986 we formally changed our name from the Caterpillar Tractor company to Caterpillar Inc.

Meet the Family

Cousins part delivery full view 1928
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Cousins part delivery full view 1928

Cousins part delivery full view 1928

 

Services & Technology

Caterpillar continues to innovate and help our customers create jobsites of the future.

Innovative products and services aren’t anything new. Our founders, Holt & Best, were innovators, and that’s continued throughout our history. Early on, we supported our customers by delivering parts by airplanes. Today, as we work to help transform jobsites with technology solutions, we are bringing decades of expertise. We delivered technology like remote control dozer and track loaders decades ago—all to help our customers improve their business.

Evolving isn't new for us. We’ll continue to work hard to provide products, services and world-class technologies that enable our customers' success. We’ve been doing it for over 95 years and are committed to keeping that focus in the future. 

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Restoring Communities

From tornadoes and earthquakes to devastating floods and forest fires, our products and services have been assisting with disaster recovery and rebuilding throughout our history. 

Our equipment was used to aid in the earth recovery and cleanup efforts as early as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and continue to play an essential role in disasters like the 2007 Peru earthquake and 2009 China earthquake. We’ve helped provide backup power for cities like the 1977 New York City blackout and 2001 Brazil power outage. We’ve been part of hurricane response and powered critical operations like hospitals that require a 24-7 power supply.

Founded in 1952, the Caterpillar Foundation has been transforming communities to be stronger, more resilient and more sustainable. The Foundation has made a tremendous impact on global disaster relief efforts around the world through financial support of organizations like the Red Cross, a longstanding partner for nearly 70 years.

2005 was a devastating year for America’s Gulf Coast with the landfall of three major hurricanes: Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. Caterpillar machines were quickly dispatched to help with cleanup and relief efforts.
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2005 was a devastating year for America’s Gulf Coast with the landfall of three major hurricanes: Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. Caterpillar machines were quickly dispatched to help with cleanup and relief efforts.

Caterpillar gensets working to provide power during a crisis-level shortage in Brazil, 2001.
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Caterpillar gensets working to provide power during a crisis-level shortage in Brazil, 2001.

A Cat hydraulic excavator in Indonesia assisting with cleanup efforts in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.
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A Cat hydraulic excavator in Indonesia assisting with cleanup efforts in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

A fleet of Cat machines ready to work in Nepal after the 2015 earthquake.
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A fleet of Cat machines ready to work in Nepal after the 2015 earthquake.

2005 was a devastating year for America’s Gulf Coast with the landfall of three major hurricanes: Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. Caterpillar machines were quickly dispatched to help with cleanup and relief efforts.
Caterpillar gensets working to provide power during a crisis-level shortage in Brazil, 2001.
A Cat hydraulic excavator in Indonesia assisting with cleanup efforts in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.
A fleet of Cat machines ready to work in Nepal after the 2015 earthquake.