CaterpillarĀ® History

World War I brought additional business to Holt. The Holt company had previously expanded its markets overseas, including Russia, Europe, and South America. Therefore, his machines were known overseas. He also had experience with securing government contracts. His overseas markets and acumen with selling to governments separated him from the competition. He was able to sell most of his production of tractors to the U.S. military, which tractors were used to pull artillery pieces and wagon-loads of supplies "Over There". Also, several other concerns were licensed to manufacture "Caterpillar" tractors to Holt's specifications to meet the Army's demand. He sold to the U.S. Army the following tractors: 1,800 of the Holt Model 45 "Caterpillars"; 1,500 of the Holt Model 75 "Caterpillars", and 90 of the Holt Model 120 "Caterpillars". Holt's total war production of tractors has been estimated to have been over 5,000, with 2,100 of them having been sold to the Allies. He also sold his newer 5-Ton and 10-Ton models with armor panels on them. The company prospered.

Despite Holt's war-time sales success, the company was left in a weakened position at the close of the War. The military had contracted with Holt for the production of a total of 24,791 tractors, but by the end of the War on November 11, 1918, only 9,771 tractors had been manufactured under the contracts. The company had undertaken an expansion in plant capacity based upon the nearly 25,000 tractors requested, and the need for that capacity ended abruptly, as the procurement contracts with the military were cancelled. Additionally, the tractors so favored by the military - large and heavy machines - were ill-suited to the needs of farmers, Holt's biggest customers before the War. Moreover, Holt had a large inventory of tractors destined for the military, but with the cancellation of the procurement contracts, Holt was left without buyers for them. Additionally, surviving U.S. Army Holt "Caterpillar" tractors from Europe were brought back to the U.S., and together with those that had been stockpiled here awaiting shipment, were sold as War surplus - depressing the new tractor market for years. Those armored War surplus tractors could be seen working on farms, for municipalities, and on construction and logging jobs for some years after the War.

At his death in 1920, Benjamin Holt's company was in difficult financial straights. In order to keep the company going, money was borrowed, and that gave the bankers a large say in the affairs of the company. The banker with the most clout was Thomas Baxter, who threatened to ruin the company unless he was made its president. The company had little choice if it wished to survive, and so Baxter succeeded founder Benjamin Holt as president. Baxter realized that the company's customers needed smaller "crawlers", and eliminated the largest tractors from the line-up.

President Baxter decreed that, with the U.S. government announcing a highway building fund, Holt would gear a significant part of its business toward road construction, so as to garner a slice of those funds. But developing a new product line emphasizing the smaller tractors that farmers needed cost money, and that increased the already high debt the company was carrying. In order to equip the "Caterpillar" tractors with road-building equipment, such as earth-moving blades ("bulldozers") and pull-scrapers which Holt did not manufacture, the company would eventually turn to independent manufacturers such as Robert G. LeTourneau to supply them.

While failing to obtain a military contract during WWI, Best obtained assurances from the government that he would have all of the steel his company needed to continue manufacturing tractors for farmers during the war. This set the company up for having the market advantage when the war ended. During the post-war depression, the company's sales actually increased by nearly 70 percent. In 1920, the Best company changed its name to the C.L. Best Tractor Co., and assumed a large amount of debt in order to expand production, especially of its new Best Model 60 "Tracklayer". It expanded its product line again in when in 1921 it introduced its popular Model 30 "Tracklayer".

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