• Transform magazine
  • December 15, 2018

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Timeline: Caterpillar

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From the early days of heavy duty vehicles to becoming one of the world’s most trusted construction brands, Caterpillar has built its brand from dirt and metal, innovation and the colour yellow. How has its brand evolved alongside the company’s expansion throughout the past century?

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1886 The farming community of Stockton, California gave birth to the first combined harvester that would become a Caterpillar. Benjamin Holt’s Holt Manufacturing Company is then incorporated in 1892.

1910 Moving to Peoria, Ill., the company introduces the ‘Caterpillar’ trademark for the first time, indicating the multipede-like tracks on the machines. The Caterpillar tractors are used to support the war effort during the first world war.

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1925 The fate of the Caterpillar trademark is decided in 1925 as the Holt Manufacturing Company and the C.L. Best Tractor Co. merge. Caterpillar becomes the official brand name and is given a logo that echoes the creepy crawly nature of the vehicles’ tracks.

1931 Another turning point in the Caterpillar story comes in 1931. The brand adopts yellow as its signature colour, dubbed ‘Hi-Way Yellow,’ formally eschewing its previous grey with red trimmed colour palette. The logo is toned down to remove the playful caterpillar-like curves.   

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1932 Throughout the next two decades, Caterpillar would help build countless national icons in the US – from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Hoover Dam. New machines begin to roll off the assembly lines allowing Caterpillar to dig and build far wider than ever before. It begins construction on the 226m tall Bhakra Dam in northern India in 1948.

1950 Not only is the logo redeveloped in the 1950s to form the more blocky, sans serif wordmark that has carried through to today, but Caterpillar expands its business worldwide. It opens its first international subsidiary in Leicestershire, England in 1950. It even makes it as far as Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze – the first foray by the US government into the frozen southern continent.

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1957 Innovation becomes the name of the Caterpillar game through the late 1950s and 1960s. New machines dig in on new projects around the world – including the Panama Canal. In 1969, Caterpillar engines make it to the moon with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. In 1952, the Caterpillar Foundation is established to help eradicate poverty. The new logo is built strong, blocky text that finally erases all former vestiges of the wonky, motion-based typeface of the past. This new look is all about the future.

1967 In 1967, Caterpillar embraces the letter ‘C’ as its brand icon. This look pervades until 1989. But 1979 proves fateful as well, as Caterpillar does away with its use of ‘Hi-Way Yellow’ in favour of a new brand colour dubbed, ‘Caterpillar Yellow.’ The business’ overseas operations increase and  the affectionate ‘Cat’ moniker gains traction.

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1989 The brand developed in 1989 is that which persists to this day. The blocky, sans serif remains, but is thinned a bit. Also introduced is a yellow triangle device that unites both the Cat logo and the longer, formal Caterpillar wordmark. Cat’s operations never slow down and its pursuit of innovation runs through the business. It now has different business lines including machinery, trucks, turbines, defence products, electronics and agricultural machines. It also licenses the brand to Wolverine World Wide who produces a line of popular boots and clothes with the Caterpillar logo and branded yellow attached.