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Benjamin Holt

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Benjamin Holt (1849-1920) was an inventor and entrepreneur. He constructed steam- and gasoline-powered tractors, but his most influential development was the successful design of crawler tracks. He was not the first to design a track-laying machine, but perfected the design for agriculture; it was later adapted for a number of other industries.

Holt was considered a “quiet and unassuming man who loved his work.”[1] He was well liked by his workers and dedicated a trust fund for employees who suffered financial difficulties.[2]

A street and school in Stockton, California were named after him.

Contents

[edit] History

[edit] The Holt Family

Benjamin Holt was born on January 1, 1849 in Concord, New Hampshire. His parents were William Knox and Harriet A. Holt. He was the youngest of four sons.

Along with his father and three brothers, Charles, William Harrison, and Ames Frank, Benjamin helped run a family-operated sawmill. They specialized in processing hardwoods for wheel and wagon construction.

Benjamin’s brothers left the family mill for San Francisco in 1864 and established their own company, C.H. Holt and Co. This new business also manufactured parts for wagons dealing mainly in structural applications like frames, wheels, and axles.

At the age of 20, Benjamin was given interest in the family sawmill in New Hampshire. He was responsible for shipping hardwood to his brothers out West on cargo ships. Once the wood arrived it dried in the arid climate near Stockton, California.

[edit] Stockton Wheel Co.

In 1883 the Holt brothers formed a new company, the Stockton Wheel Co. The new company continued manufacturing wagon components, but it also incorporated the Myer's link and v-belt combined harvester.

Recognized as the “mechanical and entrepreneurial genius of the family,” Benjamin moved out west in 1883 to manage the new business.[3] The Stockton Wheel Co. factory cost $65,000 to construct.[4] It consisted of a three-story brick building and a one-story wood frame building. It employed 25 men.[5]

Benjamin decided to expand the Stockton product line to include a number of pieces of agricultural machinery. California was ranked sixth in wheat production across the United States, so farming was a huge industry for them to market to.[6] They constructed enormous combines, some with a 50-foot (15-m) long cutting bar. However, these combines needed a large amount of horses to pull them, and it was quite difficult to control so many animals at once. Also, a small noise could spook the horses causing a stampede and severely damaging the piece of equipment. Recognizing this problem, Holt decided to focus his technical competence on designing a steam powered tractor to tow the large attachments.

Holt constructed his first experimental steam-powered tractor in 1890. Its frame was 24 feet (7.3 m) long and was capable of producing 60 horsepower from a single 11-inch (28-cm) diameter, 12-foot (3.7-m) stroke piston. It was capable of being powered by coal, wood or oil. However, it was extremely heavy and awkward to maneuver. The tractor weighed as much as 48,000 pounds (21,772 kg) and rode on large metal wheels. Still, it "could harvest large fields for one-sixth the cost of horse-drawn combines.”[7]

[edit] Holt Manufacturing Co.

In 1892, the Stockton Wheel Co. became incorporated and changed its name to the Holt Manufacturing Co.

The weight of Holt’s enormous tractors soon became a huge problem. They were sinking into the soft Californian soil. Holt unsuccessfully tried to solve the problem by increasing the size of the tractor’s wheels. One such tractor had wheels that were 7.5 feet (2.3 m) in diameter and six feet (1.8 m) wide, resulting in a 46-foot (14-m) wide machine. Holt then experimented with multiple wheels to spread the vehicle’s pressure over a larger surface area. It was at this point that Holt decided to incorporate tracks for his tractors.

By the 1900s, there were already a number of patents on track-laying vehicles, but “all the designs were mechanical failures that did not work well in the field.”[8] Most of the patents were registered in the U.K. so Benjamin Holt traveled to England in 1903 to investigate their development. He designed his own model a year later and on Thanksgiving 1904 he successfully tested the world’s first practical track-laying tractor.

While taking pictures of Holt’s new invention, the company photographer, Charles Clements, said the machine moved like a caterpillar. Holt agreed and decided to name his new machine the Caterpillar. The first production models had a track frame on each side that measured 30 inches (76 cm) high by 40 inches (102 cm) wide by nine feet (2.7 m) long. The tracks were made of three-inch (7.6-cm) by four-inch (10-cm) redwood slats. The first steam-powered crawler Caterpillar tractors sold for $5,500.[9]

[edit] Gasoline-powered Models

Two years later, Holt began developing gasoline-powered tractors that would decrease the weight of the vehicle by removing the heavy boiler required for steam power. The first 40 horsepower gasoline-powered models went into production in 1908.[10]

By now, Holt’s vehicles had become more versatile and thus more adaptable for different industries like forestry, road construction, and even the military. This allowed the Holt Manufacturing Co. to expand exponentially. In fact, by 1915, Holt Manufacturing had grown to 1,000 employees, with more than 2,000 Caterpillar crawler tractors being used in more than 20 different countries. [11]

During World War I, British and French forces were designing a new military vehicle that utilized track-laying designs. The idea of a motorized military appealed to the British, French, American, and Russian armies. This vehicle would become the tank.

It is claimed that Caterpillar manufactured 10,000 tractors for American and foreign armies during the First World War.[12] They were used to transport big guns and equipment.

After the war, Holt focused on developing roadbuilding equipment.

[edit] Holt's Death and Beyond

He passed away on December 5, 1920 at the age of 71.

In 1925 the Holt Manufacturing Co. merged with its biggest competitor C.L. Best Co. to form Caterpillar Tractor Co., which would become Caterpillar Inc.

[edit] References

  1. Benjamin Holt. Production Technology, 2008-09-25.
  2. Benjamin Holt. Production Technology, 2008-09-25.
  3. Lea, Ralph; Kennedy, Christi. Ben Holt pioneered tractors for farming, construction, war. Lodi News-Sentinel, February, 2008. (accessed: 2008-09-25)
  4. Benjamin Holt. Production Technology, 2008-09-25.
  5. Lea, Ralph; Kennedy, Christi. Ben Holt pioneered tractors for farming, construction, war. Lodi News-Sentinel, February, 2008. (accessed: 2008-09-25)
  6. Benjamin Holt. Production Technology, 2008-09-25.
  7. Benjamin Holt. Production Technology, 2008-09-25.
  8. Benjamin Holt. Production Technology, 2008-09-25.
  9. Benjamin Holt. Production Technology, 2008-09-25.
  10. http://www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/1_3_0_induction_holt.asp
  11. Lea, Ralph; Kennedy, Christi. Ben Holt pioneered tractors for farming, construction, war. Lodi News-Sentinel, February, 2008. (accessed: 2008-09-25)
  12. Lea, Ralph; Kennedy, Christi. Ben Holt pioneered tractors for farming, construction, war. Lodi News-Sentinel, February, 2008. (accessed: 2008-09-25)