In the late 19th century and a time when horses powered agriculture projects, California farmers sought new and better ways to do the work. Inspired by innovation in transportation, Benjamin Holt invented a steam tractor in 1890 to keep farmers working and more productive longer and cheaper than horses ever could. As steam-powered machinery became more accepted in agriculture applications, Holt continued innovating to address customer challenges. The wheels of the giant steam behemoths created by his company would sink into the soft California soil. To solve the problem, Holt put tracks on one of his old wheel tractors in 1904, and the first true “Caterpillar” was born.
While Holt was famous for the development of the first commercially successful track-type machines, the rival C.L. Best Tractor Company took a different approach and responded to customer needs with a focus on early gasoline technology. Their technological improvements made products more reliable and increased performance. Best’s revolutionary undercarriage design was so ahead of its time that some of the features remain part of today’s Caterpillar tractor DNA.
First sold as the Best 60, the Caterpillar Sixty track-type tractor became one of the company’s most successful tractors. Its engineering innovations are still part of the DNA of today’s Cat dozers.
Testing Benjamin Holt’s track-type tractor prototype, No. 77, on Thanksgiving Day, 1904.
Wheeled steam tractor No. 77, before the addition of its tracks, sometime in the early 1900s.
Best Manufacturing Company steam tractor pulling a plow in California, ca. 1900.
Some steam tractors, like this Best Manufacturing model, featured extremely wide wheels to help keep them from sinking into the ground.
Our origin story started on the day the wheels came off in 1904 and Holts invention the first commercially successful track-type tractor and the inspiration for the name Caterpillar.