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Daniel Best (March 20, 1838 in Tuscarawas County, Ohio – August 22, 1923 in Oakland, CA) was an American adventurer, inventor, and entrepreneur known for pioneering agriculture machinery and heavy machinery.
In 1839, Daniel Best’s father, John, moved the family to Missouri. There he built a saw mill and proceeded to cut lumber for the local pioneers to use in building their homes. The first nine years of Daniel's life were spent here and is probably where he received his interest in logging and machines.
In 1847, the family moved again to Lee County, Iowa, here they took up farming and raised stock. In 1859 Daniel, desiring adventure, and wanting to follow his brother, joined a wagon train heading west to Fort Walla Walla, Washington, employed as an ox tender and a sharpshooter.
Life in the West
As was the case for many other Americans of his day, the West changed Daniel Best’s life — but not how he expected. Along the way, he went from fighting Indians to befriending Indians. Once the wagon train reached its destination, Daniel went his own way to try his hand at gold mining followed by working in sawmills and eventually building his own sawmill.
While working in his sawmill, an accident occurred that changed the course of his life; he lost the first three fingers of his left hand. It was at this time in his life, as he would say later, that he began to "use his head". He then moved to Sutter County, California to work with his brother, Henry Best, on his ranch, where he discovered his calling as an inventor.
Over a period of forty-three years, Daniel Best received 41 patents, ranging from an improved washing machine to combine harvesters. His first invention, patented April 25, 1871, was a portable grain cleaner and separator. Prior to this, farmers had to haul their grain to town to have it cleaned and separated; now the cleaner and separator could be brought to the grain. This invention won first prize at the California State Fair in 1871.
While continuing to produce grain cleaners Daniel began experimenting with the idea of combining grain harvesting, threshing and cleaning in one machine. He was successful in 1885 when he sold his first horse-powered combined harvester. This new addition to his product line gave him the capital and the means to move onto the next major invention. It was actually an improvement on an existing design, but is still one of his better known inventions.
Daniel Best, as with most industrialists, was always looking to improve, simplify, or create pieces of equipment that would ease operations. It began when he saw the need for an improved traction engine, what some now call a steam tractor, to pull his combine harvesters. He first purchased the rights to build a successful steam traction engine from Remington of Woodburn, Oregon in 1888. He immediately began to make improvements until his engines were known as the strongest, most dependable, and longest-lasting engines in North America.
Around 1891, Daniel began to experiment with gas engines to replace the steam engines on his tractors. He developed his first gas-powered tractor in 1896. To prove its superiority, he staged a tug of war between his steam tractor and his new gas-powered engine. Not only did the gas-powered engine win, but it pulled the steam tractor around the block. As word spread of his dependable traction engines, he received more and more orders from clients all around the world. At this time,[when?] Daniel was selling $400,000 worth of machinery per year.
In 1908, at the age of 70, Daniel retired. His son, Clarence Leo Best ("Leo"), continued in his father’s footsteps, and with his father still giving advice, continued to experiment and improve on their tractors.
One improvement made was the track laying design. This type of tractor moved on rolling tracks instead of wheels. He made several different models, but two really stood out as notable. The two models — the 30 hp field tractor, and the 60 hp field tractor — were well received and highly praised by the farming community. These tractors would eventually launch a new line of tractors that are still used today.
Caterpillar Tractor Company
In 1925, the C. L. Best Tractor Company and the Holt Manufacturing Company, who also manufactured tractors and had trademarked the Caterpillar brand, merged to form the Caterpillar Tractor Company. Leo became the chairman of the board of this new company, a position he held until 1951, overseeing its growth into the largest manufacturer of heavy machinery and farm equipment worldwide.
Family and personal life
- Backus, R. (2004). 100 Years on Track Retrieved from Gas Engine Magazine archive
- Daniel Best Steam Tractor, Oakland Museum of California
- Galloway, Brent D. (1968). Daniel Best, a Biography. Galloway.
- Photo of 1896 Best steam tractor + combine harvester (plus Daniel Best himself)
- Photo of Daniel Best – (appears on several sites, this seems the clearest)