Take a Ride Through the 100-year History of EMD®

August 19, 2022

Power, performance, and innovation. These are the driving factors that have made EMD® the premier brand of diesel-electric locomotives for 100 years. Today, Progress Rail is continuing a legacy of innovation by providing alternative fuel options to help customers meet their climate-related goals. 

“EMD has a proud 100-year legacy of providing rail customers with proven technology and innovation,” said Marty Haycraft, senior vice president of Caterpillar and president and CEO of Progress Rail. “We’ll continue to develop new ways to deliver premier locomotives to our customers, and we look forward to another century of helping our customers build a better, more sustainable world.”

A Look Back

Harold L. “Hal” Hamilton founded the Electro-Motive Engineering Corporation in August 1922. He soon renamed it to the Electro-Motive Company (EMC). In 1924, EMC introduced the first Electro-Motive gas-electric rail car with 150 horsepower. 

The company was sold to General Motors in 1930, where Hamilton helped design a locomotive to run on diesel fuel – a significant improvement to steam-powered locomotives. The new diesel locomotives quickly revolutionized the rail industry thanks to their speed and versatility. After merging with another engine division at General Motors, EMC was officially renamed the Electro-Motive Division (EMD). 


1935: Ground is broken for the new La Grange facility just outside of Chicago, IL

Group of men pose for a facility groundbreaking ceremony

Facility employees hard at work building new locomotives

Employees building locomotives on a production line.

20th Century Innovations

Not only did EMD provide engines to power ships and submarines during World War II, but the company also designed a new welding process that helped make tanks bullet resistant.  

After the war, EMD’s streak of innovation continued with the design of a new passenger rail car that quickly became popular with passengers. They also introduced a trailer train that allowed semi-trailers to be loaded onto a single rail car that could also travel on roads, thus enabling the birth of intermodal shipping.


1942: Two pancake engines were installed in each of the 253 110-foot (33.5 m) submarine chasers build during World War II.

Soldiers load an engine onto a World War II battleship

People eagerly await to board a new passenger rail car.

Crowd of people gather, waiting to board a train.

Fast forward to the 1970s when Amtrak turned to EMD to provide locomotives for long-distance passenger rail service. In the early 1990s, EMD further improved performance and efficiency by providing computer-controlled locomotives. Throughout the 20th century, EMD’s commitment to innovation and customer satisfaction allowed it to continue to grow as other rail companies went out of business.  

A Commitment to Alternative Fuels

In 2010, EMD was sold to Progress Rail, where it was renamed Electro-Motive Diesel. The acquisition allowed EMD to leverage global expertise and partnerships with Caterpillar, and in 2015, EMD unveiled a new freight locomotive that met EPA tier-4 emission regulations. 

Today, Progress Rail is continuing to offer customers a range of options to help them meet their climate-related objectives. Not only are all EMD locomotives capable of running on 20% biodiesel, but they are also experimenting with 100% biodiesel capabilities. In early 2022, BHP and Fortescue announced the purchase of battery-electric EMD Joule locomotives from Progress Rail to operate in Australia.


EMD®  freight locomotives have been specifically developed to deliver the leading fuel efficiency, reliability and maintainability railroads expect.

Yellow freight locomotive driving on railroad tracks

Progress Rail is proud to offer the EMD® Joule – a fully battery-powered locomotive with more than double the energy storage of competing products

Battery-powered locomotive driving on railroad tracks

Learn more about EMD’s impressive history and how Progress Rail is celebrating the historic milestone.