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

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.

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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 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.

The Merger: Forming the Caterpillar Tractor Co.

Following World War I, the 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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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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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.

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. 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

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.

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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.

Our Strategy

Our company strategy reflects our legacy and our continuing commitment to meet the needs of our customers and the communities in which we live and work. 

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Our Purpose

For over 95 years, our products and services have helped improve the lives of people around the world.

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