The Caterpillar Employees Mixed Chorus was organized on October 29, 1941, making it the oldest employee musical activity of its kind in the world. It was the brainchild of O.G. Fry who worked in the Parts Department at the East Peoria Plant. Julian Mills of the Advertising Department served as director during the organizational rehearsals.
The first meeting produced approximately 30 interested employees. Ralph Maxwell, of the Purchasing Department, became the accompanist. Maxwell had been a professional organist before corning to Caterpillar and was directing a choir in a Church in East Peoria. He not only had the musical background needed to spark the new Chorus but had a theatrical background to help in formation of the future cast of Chorus ventures. Maxwell became the Mixed Chorus's first permanent director in December, 1941 and directed the group in their first public appearance playing in a Christmas program with the Caterpillar Band in 1941.
In fall of 1942, the Chorus presented its first musical production called South of Sonora. It ran four nights at the Shrine Mosque in Peoria – a venue that was used for many shows to follow. The show was made possible through the allocation of funds by the Caterpillar Employees' Activities Association, who raised money through profits accrued in vending machines throughout the plant.
The first show was a success and was a sellout to Caterpillar employees and their families. Caterpillar Chairman Louis Neumiller and his family attended the show. Later shows were also made available to the general public.
When you consider the number of cast, crew, and audience for each show and then multiply that by 75, you get some idea of the vast outreach of this chorus has had not just at Caterpillar but the greater Peoria community as well.
From the Sound of Music to Little Mermaid – the Chorus resume is diverse. Beginning March 1, we honor 75 years of the Mixed Chorus with in our heritage exhibit, "It Plays in Peoria: The Caterpillar Employees Mixed Chorus.”