1904: How the caterpillar got its name

In California, where Benjamin Holt operated his company for agricultural machines and earthmoving equipment, the soft, muddy farmland presented a special challenge to the farmers. The machines, together with the horses that at that time often still pulled them, regularly sank into the soft subsoil.

That’s why Holt began to work on a solution to the problem and replaced the wheels on his steam-powered tractor with a track design. When he introduced his prototype invention in 1904 among his circle of friends, legend has it that Charlie Clements, the company photographer, exclaimed: “If that don’t look like a monster caterpillar.” The name for the invention was discovered – though initially opposed by Holt, who allegedly didn’t like the name. Various versions of a name for the new machines were discussed, such as “mud turtles”, “railroad wheel”, “tread mill” or “paddle wheels”. Finally, however, Holt was persuaded that “caterpillar” was the most appropriate term, and he had the name registered as a brand name in 1910.

Caterpillar tagline used by Holt to protect the trademark
© Courtesy of Caterpillar Inc.

When Holt and Best merged their companies in 1925, the Caterpillar machine name became part of the company name: “Caterpillar Tractor Co.” In older versions of the company logo, the name Caterpillar was still stylized as a caterpillar. Small feet could be seen on the letters, and the “Caterpillar” lettering crawled like a caterpillar. The company was later renamed Caterpillar Inc. in 1986.

© Courtesy of Caterpillar Inc.

Further information:

1925: American Pioneering Spirit – how Caterpillar started out

More about Caterpillar’s history on their website

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