I heard the most fascinating brief story on NPR the other day. It was about the design and development of the bulldozer, that big, yellow behemoth that is ripping up the earth as you travel along the highway, tearing down the abandoned grocery store in the next neighborhood, or leveling the back yard where they have just planted a new septic tank. The bulldozer has become such a common phenomenon in our society that it’s possible not to even think about its significance. Unless, of course, you have stock in the Caterpillar Corporation, one of the more significant industries in this country.
The original bulldozer was known as a steam tractor and was a crude vehicle with limited capabilities. It was used in World War I as more of a barrage vehicle than anything, but was also employed to move large equipment and large landforms. It was still a pretty crude instrument with limited capabilities.
The NPR article pointed out that the bulldozer really came into its own after World War II, when new construction became a huge industry in America. The idea of moving great amounts of earth in a short time emerged from the technology that had created the tank…one of the instruments that had helped defeat the Germans in Europe. They took the mechanical capabilities of the tank, the power which moved it, and the indestructibility of the machine, added a blade to the front of it, and…SHAZAM… there was the bulldozer.
The interesting part of the article which caught my attention was that the bulldozer‘s arrival in American industry after World War II was a significant contributor to the massive housing construction industry which was a direct response to the thousands upon thousands of soldiers returning from war, the availability of money for the purchasing of new homes in suburban communities, some of which didn’t even exist before bulldozers helped create them. I’m thinking about places like Levittown, Long Island, NYwhich emerged out of Long Island farm land and was almost overnite a community of more than 50,000 people, many living in their own home for the first time. They were cookie-cutter neighborhoods with people choosing their homes out of catalogues. They bought them like we might buy a shirt from L.L. Bean today.
“Three bedroom home, 1 1/2 bathrooms, eat-in kitchen. 2 trees. Corner location. Sidewalk and driveway asphalt. Brick trim. Schools under construction…..etc.”
There were standard houses for the most part. Some had other characteristics. But for the most part, the houses were identical. It was the beginning of suburbs and it took bulldozers and similar equipment to turn the fields into streets, cellars, and communities.
The next time you see a construction company building a new home or a new building or a new road, remember that the bulldozer that is leveling the mounds of dirt to make it capable of giving birth to a new home or other phenomenon.
Photo Credit: Boge