In commemoration of World War I, the Heidrick Ag History Center is proud to exhibit a rare collection of WWI vehicles vital to the evolution in military machinery, November 1st- 30th. To memorialize the events and honor the servicemen and women of World War I, museum guests are invited to contribute non-returnable photos, documents, and items to be displayed in a temporary World War I Memorial installation hosted on-site. Plan your visit to this special exhibition and learn about World War I advancements through technology.
World War I
World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War was a global war centered in Europe that began on July 28, 1914 and lasted until November 11, 1918. More than 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians died as a result of the war. The casualty rate was exacerbated by the belligerents’ technological and industrial sophistication. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history, paving the way for major political changes, including revolutions in transport and weaponry.
The home front of the United States in World War I saw a systematic mobilization of the entire population and the entire economy to produce the soldiers, food supplies, munitions and money needed to win the war.
The war came in the midst of the Progressive Era, when efficiency and expertise were highly valued. Therefore the federal government (and states as well) set up a multitude of temporary agencies to bring together the expertise necessary to redirect the economy and society into the production of munitions and food necessary for the war, as well as the production of ideas necessary to motivate the people.
Holt Fills War Orders
The Holt Manufacturing Company produced tractors used for every power need in 1917.
They were used in agriculture, mining, lumber, snow removal, road building, industrial and military. The Holt Manufacturing Company’s initial products focused on agricultural machinery and were distributed internationally. The traction machines were built at Holt’s plants in Stockton California, and Peoria Illinois.
During World War I, Holt tractors were used to replace horses to haul artillery and other supplies. The Quartermaster Corps also used them to haul long trains of freight wagons over the unimproved dirt tracks behind the front.
By 1916, about 1,000 of Holt’s 120 horsepower Caterpillar tractors were used by the British in World War I. “We have been shipping two Caterpillars per day to the British government for the past eighteen months,” said Pliny E. Holt of Stockton. “All of the motors are manufactured in Stockton. We ship them to our Peoria plant, where the Caterpillars are assembled. We have no direct knowledge of the purpose for which they are to be used. They are shipped as agricultural machinery. Of course, we have representatives in England, but they are sworn to secrecy. If the Caterpillars are armored, that is done after they reach England. We have sent some to France and some to Russia. So far as I know, the tractors were used only to tow big guns.” (Stockton, San Joaquin County, Ca—Tuesday, September 19, 1916)
Until recently, these Caterpillars were designed for modern farming, but in WWI they were transformed into fighting machines. The way they hurdled trenches, crawled over shell craters and through swamps and marshes surpassed the horse drawn age of the tractors predecessor.
The 1915 World War I relic was sent to the Fred Heidrick Ranch in Woodland where it was renovated for exhibition with other tractors. It is currently displayed in the West Wing at the Heidrick Ag History Center. Originally, the gasoline powered rig was shipped to France where it was expected to haul big cannons around the Western Front. (Daily Enterprise, Bill McKenna) But for reasons unknown, the tractor never left the dock in France. After the war, the tractor was returned to the United States and it was used on the Hedrick Ranch near Sunnymead from 1920 to 1932. The tractor was a real workhorse.
10 Ton Artillery Tractor
The 10-ton artillery tractor was developed for WWI because of the mortality rate of horses. This vehicle is currently on view in the East Wing at the Heidrick Ag History Center. These tractors solved transportation problems that were too stiff for animals or motor trucks. “Since the British army adopted the Holt engine, the horseshoer’s have had a lot less to do.” (Caterpillar Times for March 1915, “Our Page of War News”).
The standard U.S. 10-ton artillery tractor was one of the most advanced and most efficient tractors in 1917. It is a self-propelled track-laying road vehicle. The advantage of this type of tractor for military purposes lies in its ability to negotiate soft or uneven surfaces. The general design and construction of the 10-ton tractor use differs from that of the modern motor truck because the tractor is designed to pull ordinance equipment, not carry a load.
Holt tractors were also the inspiration for the development of the British and French tanks, which profoundly altered ground warfare tactics.
On April 22, 1918 British Army officer Colonel Ernest Dunlop Swinton visited Stockton while on a tour of the USA. Swinton publicly thanked Benjamin Holt and his workforce for their contribution to the war effort. During 1914 and 1915, Swinton had advocated basing some sort of armored fighting vehicle on Holt’s caterpillar tractors, but without success. Although Britain did develop tanks, they came from a separate source and were not directly influenced by Holt machines. After the appearance of tanks on the battlefield, Holt built a prototype, the Gas-electric tank, but it did not enter production.
After the war ended, Holt focused less on agricultural machinery and more on producing road-building equipment.