Bill Naumann: From Machinist Apprentice to Chairman of the Board

In 1929, when William “Bill” L. Naumann completed high school in Pekin, Ill., he wanted to go to college but wasn’t able to afford it. Naumann said he “looked for job where [he] could get an education” and came upon Caterpillar’s four-year machinist apprentice program. Earning 23 cents/hour as a machinist apprentice, he also enrolled in night school and a three-year correspondence course in mechanical engineering.

In 1933, Naumann graduated from Caterpillar’s apprentice training program and went on be an inspector for two years, then spent six more as a foreman and general foreman of inspection, and eventually became a factory manager at the East Peoria plant in 1945. When Caterpillar opened a new plant in Joliet, Ill. – the company’s first new U.S. plant in over 25 years – Naumann was selected to be the manager.

In 1960, he became a vice president and, in 1975, was elected as Chairman of the Board. Bill Naumann retired as Chairman in 1977 but remained on the Board of Directors until 1984.
After his death in 1995, Donald V. Fites, Caterpillar’s Chairman at the time said, “Bill was an outstanding business leader – a man of dignity and strong convictions, with a penetrating mind. His extraordinary career spanned an era during which the company grew from its modest beginnings as the pioneer of earth moving industry to a worldwide enterprise. His contributions have significantly shaped Caterpillar’s history.”

In 1995, Naumann’s family donated his old wooden tool chest from his days as a machinist apprentice and inspector to Caterpillar. In addition to over 60 tools, the chest contains a 4th edition copy of the American Machinist’s Handbook from 1927, a receipt for a $3 payment made on his tool account, as well as a pair of antique safety glasses – proving that safety was just as important in the early days of Caterpillar as it is today.


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