haycraftBorn in Vermont, made in America, John Deere helped humans move enough earth to impress even Ruaumoko, the Maori god of earthquakes. Deere’s death on May 17, 1886 marked the end of an era. His inventiveness and the equipment that emerged from it “broke the plains,” as the poetic copywriters of the time put it, and in so doing expanded American agriculture into a colossus. Deere’s company later expanded into areas ranging from lawnmowers to bicycles to, as William Haycraft tells us, earthmovers.

The first overarching history of the earthmoving equipment industry, Yellow Steel examines the tremendous increase in the scope of mining and construction projects, from the Suez Canal through the interstate highway system, made possible by innovations in earthmoving machinery.

Led by Cyrus McCormick’s invention in 1831 of a practical mechanical reaper, many of the builders of today’s massive earthmoving machines began as makers of reapers, plows, threshers, and combines. Haycraft traces the efforts of manufacturers such as Caterpillar, Allis-Chalmers, International Harvester, J. I. Case, Deere, and Massey-Ferguson to diversify from farm equipment to specialized earthmoving equipment. He also looks at the important contributions of LeTourneau, Euclid, and others in meeting the needs of the construction and mining industries. As he shows, postwar economic and political events, especially the creation of the interstate highway system, spurred the development of more powerful and more agile machines. Yet changing economic times instigated the precipitous fall of several major American earthmoving machine companies and the rise of Japanese competitors in the early 1980s.

Extensively illustrated and packed with detailed information on both manufacturers and machines, Yellow Steel knits together the diverse stories of the many companies that created the earthmoving equipment industry—how they began, expanded, retooled, merged, succeeded, and sometimes failed. Their history, a step-by-step linking of need and invention, provides the foundation for virtually all modern transportation, construction, commerce, and industry.

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