Encyclopedia - The Holt Tractor

Hornsby tractor, 1905 The Holt was an American agricultural tractor which used a so-called 'caterpillar' track in place of wheels and which inspired Colonel Ernest Swinton to propose British sponsorship of tank development.

The caterpillar track was in fact invented by a British company named Hornsby based in Grantham in 1905.  In 1909 they demonstrated a tracked tractor to the British Army; impressed, the army awarded Hornsby a prize for their idea: however their idea was not taken up.

Consequently Hornsby sold on the patent for the caterpillar track to a U.S. company, Holt Tractors (now the Caterpillar Tractor Company), based in Stockton, California.  Holt's in turn produced a series of agricultural tractors which proved commercially viable in the mid-west.

Ironically with the advent of the First World War the British and French governments bought several Holt tractors for use in heavy goods haulage.  It was during Christmas 1914 that Colonel Swinton, viewing the tractors in action, considered the possible benefits of modifying an armoured vehicle to carry caterpillar tracks, making it ideal for static battlefield conditions.

Swinton set about convincing the British government of the merit of his idea - and within a year (with Churchill and Lloyd George's backing) the tank was unveiled.

A 'Woolly Bear' comprised a German shrapnel shell, which burst with a cloud-like explosion.

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