Abstract: A Dirt Moving War: How World War II Advanced the Business of Construction Equipment Manufacturers

Francesca Russello Ammon


World War II has been called "A Dirt Moving War" for the critical role played by militarized construction equipment. As Army Engineers and Naval Seabees deployed bulldozers to clear sites for military construction, they created substantial demand for Caterpillar, International Harvester, and other equipment manufacturers. Although wartime restrictions limited near-term profits, these companies' service soon yielded postwar benefits. By partnering with the state during the war, they advanced product development, grew production capacity, and expanded skilled labor. By promoting their contributions to the bulldozer's battlefield triumphs, they sought to enhance their reputations as well. Finally, the public-private partnerships cemented during war helped shape postwar policies that fueled future domestic demand. In all of these ways, for many construction equipment manufacturers, war was not just an interruption to business as usual. It was also a heightened continuation of everyday life that positioned them well for the return to peacetime operations. Recovering the contributions of the construction equipment industry to the World War II "arsenal of democracy" demonstrates the wartime roots of postwar suburban, highway, and urban renewal development.