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What Shaped Your Industry? The History of Heavy Equipment

The more we work with our dealers, the more we learn about the industries we’re helping them serve. Today, we’re taking an even closer look at a primary vertical of our commercial industry’s history: heavy equipment. We know that this industry is an extremely influential industry, seeing as it is larger than any single manufacturing segment of the U.S. economy. We will be presenting an overview of the past 50 years and what particular events in this timeline have shaped the industry.

The birth of the heavy equipment industry as we know it was the passing of the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956. While there was certainly need for heavy equipment earlier in our country’s history, this act presented the daunting need for equipment to establish our highway interstate system. This feat took 35 years to accomplish, and as the needs arose for more equipment, the size and variety of equipment increased rapidly throughout the 60’s, what is known as the decade of the “monster machines”. This was the true birth of the industry.

The next significant event in the history of this industry was the Arab oil embargo of 1973. With this event, the demand for coal brought about a need for earth-moving equipment that resulted in a waiting list of 4 years for those who didn’t immediately jump on the order process.

Then, the recession of the 80’s brought about major consolidation of companies and the only surviving manufacturer of the top manufacturers in these early decades was Caterpillar, which was largely due to their advancement in technology and larger scope of equipment categories.

The 1990’s  brought about some environmental awareness, particularly with the diesel engine emissions standards in the year 1996, which forced manufacturers to produce more efficient diesel engines. Again, CAT kept its dominant influence by being one of the first to change over their engine type. This pivotal technological change took the industry to a new level of possibilities.

The final influential date up to this point was 2008. With the most recent recession in our country, the industry experienced another great need to financially buckle down. In 2008, “A substantial increase or movement toward rental vs. ownership occurred,” says John Patterson, former CEO and President of JCB. “When you consider 20 years ago, rental was less than 20% of the market in the United States; now over 40% of all equipment is purchased by rental companies.” As the industry’s needs and innovation continue to grow we speculate that this demand for rental provisions will remain an important facet as the innovation becomes more widespread.
Equipment Today celebrated 50 years of publishing by providing a look at equipment innovation over the decades with images provided by the Historical Construction Equipment Association. “The Historical Construction Equipment Association (HCEA), a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, is the only organization in the world dedicated to preserving and documenting for public education the history of the construction, dredging and surface mining equipment industries,” says Equipment Today. We’ve included a few photos below from the time periods we’ve discussed, but you can check out their full gallery here to step back in time and see all of the most revolutionary technology that was developed over the years.



Sarah Gallagher
Autolink PK / August 9, 2017

Fantastic post – Great explainations and thinking.I’m looking forward to what you have for us next..!
Heavy equipment supplier Pakistan

Tom Casper / March 12, 2019

I love how you have explained the history and the transition of the events. I am into the heavy machinery auctions, and anything that involves historical transitions of heavy equipment are worth sharing and I definitely find very informative.


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