Click to View Latest IssueClick to View Latest Issue

Benjamin Holt: A Hometown Hero

By  0 Comments

Born in 1849 in Merrimac County, New Hampshire, Benjamin Holt was the seventh of eleven children. In 1868, he joined with his older brothers, William H., Ames Frank and Charles H. Holt, to open a wagon wheel company in New Hampshire. Benjamin, the youngest of the brothers, would work the family sawmill in New Hampshire and manage the shipment of lumber to the family’s manufacturing plants. By 1871 the family had expanded operations to San Francisco, and by 1873 the firm was one of the largest wagon parts manufacturers on the East Coast. In 1883, after their parents had passed away, Benjamin and Charles established the Stockton Wheel Company and moved to Stockton, California. The firm changed its name to the Holt Manufacturing Company in 1892. 

Through the 1880s and 1890s, Benjamin would establish himself as a mechanical genius. Developing horse-drawn harvesters that could move through muddy or uneven terrain, and later side-hill harvesters that could harvest on an incline, the Holt Manufacturing Company grew rapidly. In 1890, Holt built his first steam traction engine, replacing the need for horse teams. It weighed 48,000 pounds and worked with 60 horsepower. By 1892, the technology was perfected, and Benjamin was named president of the firm. By 1904, he had developed the first crawl-type tractor capable of going to market, ensuring his company’s success. During WWI, Holt Caterpillar® tractors would become famous, as the British, American and French militaries would use Holt 75 and 60 tractors to haul artillery and personnel.

In 1890, Benjamin married Anne Brown, the daughter of a famous Stockton pioneer. They had five children, Alfred, William Knox, Anne, Edison Ames and Benjamin Dean. Tragically, the three brothers who followed him to Stockton, Ames Frank, William and Charles, passed away at young ages, and all by 1905. Benjamin Holt passed away in 1920, a hero in Stockton and revered in industrial circles nationwide. Holt Manufacturing Company would eventually merge with Best Tractors in Fremont to form Caterpillar Inc., which would relocate to Peoria, Illinois, but Holt’s legacy in Stockton was secure. His wife, Anna Brown Holt, would remain active in the community as a regent at the College of the Pacific, and several of his children would remain active in Stockton and San Joaquin for years to come.

Story and Holt Tractor photos courtesy of the San Joaquin Historical Museum
Benjamin Holt portrait courtesy of The Record