Caterpillar Essay

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Employing nearly 100,000 people all over the world, Caterpillar Inc. is the world’s largest manufacturer of equipment for the construction and mining industries, as well as manufacturing turbines and engines. The characteristic yellow paint scheme of much of their equipment is as familiar to people in regions where those industries are dominant as are John Deere green and Coca-Cola red. A Fortune 500 company since the list’s inception in 1955, it was ranked 50 in 2008, the most recent ranking. As the leader in its industry, it has been one of the 30 companies of the Dow Jones Industrial Average since 1991.

The innovation with which the company is associated, and has been since its inception, is the caterpillar or continuous track. Such tracks, used instead of wheels, are made of rigid plates connected to each other in a belt, laying flat on the ground as the vehicle moves forward. This allows for a much more efficient distribution of weight, significantly reducing the ground pressure of the vehicle. Caterpillar tracks are most associated with vehicles too heavy to use wheels like cars—such as tanks and construction equipment. Early attempts at making a useful continuous track often referred to them as a type of rail, but unlike rails, they allow for more flexibility of movement, remain with the vehicle, and do not need to be laid down ahead of time. The idea of the continuous track had been in circulation since the 18th century, and became the focus of various inventions during the Industrial

While Caterpillar equipment like this is sold in 200 countries, the U.S. market still makes up half of the company’s sales.

Revolution when there was more and more demand for heavy vehicles for which wheels were inefficient or simply unusable.

The first effective model was patented in 1901 by Alvin Lombard, for use with steam-powered log haulers. Two years later, the Holt Manufacturing Company paid Lombard’s fees for the right to manufacture equipment using his patented tracks, and subsequently purchased a later British continuous track patent, which included a steering mechanism similar to what’s in use today. The designs were combined, the term caterpillar track was trademarked, and the Holt Manufacturing Company became the Caterpillar Tractor Company in 1925, through a merger with the C.L. Best Gas Traction Company. Holt tractors using caterpillar tracks were used during World War I, to tow artillery, and the tracks were soon adopted for military tanks.

The Industrial Revolution had permanently changed farming, not only by encouraging larger-scale commercial farms, but by revolutionizing the farm equipment industry. The construction industry was just as affected, and the rise of skyscrapers and other modern building types necessitated the widescale manufacture of equipment. Caterpillar adapted to changing technologies, including the shift to internal combustion engines and diesel engines, and expanded rapidly to meet the construction and manufacturing boom following World War II. Its overseas ventures began in 1950, and it has continued to operate multinationally since. Acquisitions of other companies have fueled Caterpillar’s expansion, sometimes into other countries—Hindustan Motors Earthmoving Equipment Division was acquired and renamed Caterpillar India in 2000—and sometimes into new product lines, as with Barber Green (Caterpillar Paving Products since 1991), Elphinstone (Caterpillar Underground Mining since 2000), the acquisitions of many engine and engine component manufacturers, and the 2008 acquisition of LOVAT, a manufacturer of tunnel boring machines. Caterpillar products were responsible for the construction of the Hoover Dam, the tunnel under the English Channel, and the U.S. interstate highway system.

In the 21st century, Caterpillar’s products are sold in 200 countries, with about half of its sales accounted for in the United States. Caterpillar dealerships are independently owned and operated, and each dealer has exclusive rights to a given geographical area. Repair and maintenance services are offered by the same local dealerships. Caterpillar’s 400 vehicles constitute the bulk of its products, and those for which it is best known, and include both tracked and wheeled vehicles, for construction, excavation, and heavy transport. Many of the engines used in Caterpillar’s vehicles are of its own manufacture, and are also sold to other companies for use in locomotives, trucks, and generators.


  1. Ilan Brat, “Caterpillar Enters Navistar Truck Venture,” Wall Street Journal (June 13, 2008);
  2. “Caterpillar Exits Engine Business, Enters Work-Truck Market,” ENR: Engineering News-Record (v.260/21, 2008);
  3. Tim Kelly, “Squash the Caterpillar,” Forbes (v.181/8, 2008);
  4. Jason Leow, “In China, Add a Caterpillar to the Dog and Pony Show,” Wall Street Journal (December 10. 2007);
  5. Qontro Business Profiles, Caterpillar Inc. (Qontro, 2008).

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