The Caterpillar Tractor Company underwent several major changes throughout the 1930s to adapt to the economic conditions of the Great Depression. After the stock market crash of 1929, the company managed to survive by exporting tractors to the Soviet Union. In the mid-1930s, the market for tractors in the United States improved due to the growing number of public works projects. Caterpillar was able to meet the new demand for heavy equipment by developing lighter and more dependable diesel tractor engines and redesigning its older diesel tractor models. Tractor sales continued to rise into the late-1930s. The company’s endurance was made possible by the hard work of Caterpillar employees such as Andrew Clarence Kern, whose collection of professional papers has recently been processed at the San Joaquin County Historical Society and Museum.
Kern was born in Pine City, Minnesota on April 17, 1906. In 1917, his family moved to a farm in Warsaw, Minnesota, where he worked as a carpenter’s assistant. In the summer of 1921, he moved to Stockton and worked a paper route for the Stockton Record. In the fall, he moved to Lemoore, California and began attending high school. He left high school without graduating in 1923 to work as a truck driver for Bradley Transfer in Escalon. In 1924, he returned to Stockton to work as a maintenance assistant for A. B. Humphrey.
The Caterpillar Tractor Company hired Kern on October 1, 1925. After working on an assembly line for six months, he was transferred to the Experimental Department, where he made original parts from wood, sheet iron, and angle iron. From 1928 to 1929, he worked for the Service Department in the United States and Canada. In January of 1930, he was transferred to the Export Department and sent to the Soviet Union to work as a field engineer. He returned to the United States in October and continued his work with the Experimental Department. He worked in the Credit Department from 1934 until 1936, when he was transferred to the Eastern Sales Division. He was promoted to the position of Agricultural Representative in 1938 and served Caterpillar in the southern part of Ohio, the western part of West Virginia, and the eastern part of Kentucky.
The collection provides an interesting glimpse into the life of a Caterpillar sales representative. It contains the tools of the trade, including company letterhead, business forms, sales brochures, and other promotional materials. Kern studied catalogs and reports in preparation for sales meetings. His correspondence with other Caterpillar employees provides insight into the company’s sales and marketing strategies. Items in the collection also shed light on his life on the road. Kern kept a diary to record his mileage and travel expenses. Annotated maps covering Kern’s sales territory reveal travel routes and dealership locations. Evidence of the diligence that kept Caterpillar alive during the Great Depression can be found throughout the collection.
Nicholas Jackson is a student in the School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University. His work this summer as an intern at the Museum has included arrangement of the Andrew C. Kern Collection.