April 21, 2021
Finding an important family relic that’s been hidden away for decades in a dark, dusty attic is the kind of story writers dream about, and dreamers write about. Regrettably, in real life, it rarely happens. But that scenario is precisely where this story begins – in an attic, inside a house, located on a quiet, tree-lined street, in a quaint midwestern town where a former Caterpillar vice president once lived.
In 1914, then-Caterpillar Vice President Murray M. Baker built a majestic family home on Moss Avenue in Peoria, Illinois, where the Baker family lived until 1967 – a few years after Baker’s death. The house, still known to locals as “The Murray Baker House,” has sustained a number of changes through the years. And when it sold last year, an amazing discovery was made – inside the attic was a rare and fascinating Caterpillar-related document from the days when Baker helped command our fledgling company.
The small 74-page booklet was tucked away in a corner – a dog-eared pliable ivory cardstock cover faded by age and worn with use binds the pages. It is stamped with a 1911 copyright. The cover is elegantly embossed with an intricate intersecting box design and bears the name “Caterpillar” in glitzy gold-foil stamping at the top of the book. The word “results” appears in quotations near the bottom.
In 1911, the Holt Manufacturing Company made only one machine – and it was called “The Caterpillar.” An engineering marvel, the 16,800-pound wonder was the original track-type tractor, and it was first manufactured in Stockton, California. The Caterpillar was unlike anything previously invented. Powered by a Holt steam engine perfected over more than 20 years of manufacturing experience, the Caterpillar pulled – rather than pushed – its load.
In almost every way imaginable, the machine was a land laborer’s dream come true. It could work anywhere in any weather. From hauling logs in the highest mountains where winters were extreme, roads were rough, and grades were steep, to low-lying fertile delta lands with soft grounds too unstable for conventional plowing methods. Before creation of the Caterpillar, much of this work had either been impossible or was done by horses or mules. As such, the folks at Holt Manufacturing considered work animals to be a significant competitor.
Because farmers were a prime market for the Caterpillar tractor, sales demonstrations often took place at county fairs or local community events where old-fashioned tractor pulls took top billing. It was a time before the robust, independent Caterpillar dealer network we know today – and Holt representatives attended local events to sell farmers and communities on the machine’s merits. The Caterpillar “results” booklet found in the Murray Baker house attic is from that day – a sales brochure to leave behind at those events.
The booklet is like many relics of the past – a close look reveals clues about what is to come. The perfect-bound document measures 8 x 11” and is structured into two main sections. The first part of the booklet provides company information and history, and features and benefits of the machine itself; the second part is comprised of 64 pages of customer stories and pictures.
Today’s Cat® machines are known throughout the industry – and the world – for providing low owning and operating costs over the life of the machine. Likewise, a common thread running throughout the booklet’s customer testimonials is how the Caterpillar machine had lowered expenses compared to traditional horse and mule labor. Lowering customer operating expenses, both then and now, equals increased customer success – otherwise known as results. And even a hundred years ago, our company’s forefathers recognized that company success depended on how successful we could help make customers.
In 1911, just like today, low owning and operating cost was only part of the successful customer equation. Other testimonials from the booklet talk about how Caterpillar’s unique track design allowed customers to plow and harvest land previously considered impractical or impossible to farm. Providing customers with the right machine and services in the right place isn’t new – it’s a cornerstone of our legacy. According to the booklet, the Caterpillar machine’s claim to fame was an adaptable, rugged machine built with precision and care that could work under harsh conditions to cultivate land and haul materials at a lower operating cost than the competition.
Companies built on solid foundations tend to last. It’s refreshing to know that more than 110 years after the invention of the Caterpillar machine, our company hasn’t strayed from the principles that made our predecessor companies successful. Now, more than ever, we are focused on providing customers with the products and services our customers need to build a better world. As you peruse photos of the actual 1911 Caterpillar “results” booklet found in Baker’s attic, you’ll likely be delighted at how closely the words, machine descriptions, and customer testimonials mirror the way we write about our products, services and customers even today.
Just as in 1911, machine durability, lower operating costs, and increased productivity remain front and center as we intently focus on our customers and their success. In doing so, we strengthen our company for future generations. What we’re doing today is simply a continued effort to provide customers with what they need when they need it. As the world changes, customer needs change too. Today’s customers need services, technologies, and expanded digital capabilities to help them manage their machines and job sites, as well as meet sustainability goals.
As our Chairman and CEO Jim Umpleby says, “When we begin with the customer in mind, we enable customer success, earn their loyalty, and further strengthen Caterpillar’s and our dealers’ collective competitive advantage.”
It’s true that some things never change. Nor should they.
Murray M. Baker, a Peoria businessman and native of Illinois, is credited with bringing Holt Manufacturing – a Caterpillar predecessor company – to central Illinois. Baker owned a farm implement dealership and was aware that the Holt company was looking to expand operations east of the Mississippi River. Baker contacted the Holts about an idle factory located in East Peoria and helped the Holts seal the deal.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Baker, a Holt employee before the Best/Holt merger formed the Caterpillar Tractor Company, retired from Caterpillar as vice president in 1927 and served on the board from 1925 until 1957 – making him the longest-serving board member. Baker passed away in 1964.