Ill. Icon, Global Power Caterpillar Turns 100

Fri February 19, 2010 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) The $32 billion company that puts the Peoria area on the world’s financial map got its start 100 years ago with the deed to a bankrupt tractor plant and a dozen employees.

Caterpillar, based in East Peoria, is easily the area’s biggest employer with more than 16,000 local workers. But it’s also 44th in the Fortune 500, employs more than 90,000 people around the world and serves as a bellwether for the economy because its construction and mining equipment is so widely used.

“Over the years, our first plant along the banks of the Illinois River has been the birthplace for many of the products that have made us the company we are today,” Caterpillar CEO-elect and Vice Chairman Doug Oberhelman said. He has been picked to replace outgoing CEO James Owens.

Cat got its start when Holt Manufacturing Company of Stockton, Calif., chose East Peoria and the bankrupt Colean Manufacturing plant as its base east of the Rockies.

Holt was looking at Minneapolis but a young Peoria businessman named Murray Baker steered Holt toward a relatively new tractor plant owned by the bankrupt Colean Manufacturing Company, according to Caterpillar archivist Nicole Thaxton.

Pliny Holt, the nephew of Holt’s founder, came to the Peoria area to check it out, and loved it.

“I spent last Sunday in Peoria, Illinois, investigating the plant of the Colean Manufacturing Company and I must say that I am more than enthused with the location of this plant for our Eastern Manufacturing business,” Pliny Holt wrote in a letter dated July 1, 1909.

Holt Manufacturing took the deed to the plant on Feb. 16, 1910, and started work as Holt Caterpillar Company right away.

A group of investors bought Holt and another manufacturer, C.L. Best Tractor Co., in 1925, and merged them into Caterpillar Tractor Co.

Caterpillar employment reached more than 110,000 and revenue topped $51 billion in 2008 before the recession cut sales and led the company to lay off workers.