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Louis B. Neumiller, Class of 1914, A PHS Alumnus
A Leader that put Caterpillar and Peoria on the Map!

The Neumiller Family has been a Peoria staple since the 1800's.  The contributions to our area are probably immeasurable but very noticeable.  Louis B Neumiller was born on 14 January 1896, in Peoria, Illinois.  He attended Peoria High School graduating in 1914 after working at the family business while attending school.  After working a few odd jobs, he earned his first position with The Holt Manufacturing Company in East Peoria, IL as a stenographer and blueprint clerk. In 1925, Holt Merged with C.L. Best Tractor Company to form the Caterpillar Tractor Company at which time he became the general parts manager and was charged with consolidation of the department from the two companies. Through his success and customer service, he was noticed by the new company leadership. In 1932, he was promoted to service manager and became the first director of industrial relations in 1937, being selected as a vice president later that year during which time he led the company’s first labor negotiations.

Louie also founded Junior Achievement of Central Illinois in 1946 after learning of the organization while on business on the east coast. Under his leadership as Chairman, Caterpillar broadened the product line from 3 to 11 machine families, acquired Trackson Company, grew from 16,000 to more than 36,000 employees, and opened 13 new factories. Retiring as chairman and chief executive of Caterpillar in 1962, he remained a director until 1968.


Meet Louis Neumiller – The World Changer

In 1941 Louis Neumiller, who began his career as a stenographer with one of Caterpillar’s predecessor companies, was elected president of the company by the board of directors. He inherited a company that was in the process of fully mobilizing for war.  

When war came to the U.S. in December of 1941, the U.S. government asked Caterpillar to increase production to a level higher than the company had ever achieved before. It was an extremely ambitious goal, but under Neumiller’s leadership Caterpillar rose to the occasion. 

From 1942 to 1945, Caterpillar operated seven days a week, doubled its workforce, placed women on jobs in research, the foundry, and the assembly lines, manufactured special products, trained and sponsored enlisted men, and built approximately 51,000 track-type tractors for the military. Caterpillar machines were sent across the globe and performed admirably, supporting the U.S. and its allies on every continent except Antarctica.  

After the war, Caterpillar machines and the parts to maintain them were used to rebuild war-ravaged Europe, Northern Africa and Asia. There was no global post-war sales slump for Caterpillar. 

Neumiller would later become chairman of the board in 1954. He retired in 1962 after spending 47 years with the company. 

In the 40's when Louis Neumiller became the President of Caterpillar, the US was entering World War II.  The changes and innovation that took place during his tenure were incredible and shaped the company for years to come.  He was an innovator and creative leader.  I found this little quote from Peoria Magazine by Louis Neumiller.

"In the 1940s, Caterpillar President Louis B. Neumiller coined the popular phrase I-T-A-B-W-O-D-I (“Is there a better way of doing it?”). That question still resonates throughout Caterpillar today as Six Sigma teams continue to leverage its historic culture of continuous improvement."

Neumiller's style and energy took the company to new levels.  This video (shown below) highlights Caterpillar's contributions to the war effort by its employees.  One of the employees highlighted is another PHS Alumnus who went from working on the factory floor to CEO.  We'll be getting back to you soon with an article on this B-17 Navigator who went to war and rose to CEO.  The video shows how under the leadership of Mr Neumiller that Caterpillar and its employees thrived and supported the war effort.  


1947 – A Caterpillar D4 track-type tractor pulls a float in the Santa Parade in Peoria, Illinois. 

Built For Water

c. 1945 - This unique looking track-type tractor was made to work in water for the U.S. Coast Guard.


Under Neumiller's "home-town-boy" leadership style, Caterpillar's revenues grew from over $100 million in 1941 to $827 million in 1963, prospering through World War II and the global post-war boom. Neumiller built the Caterpillar brand into a common worldwide name, developing only the highest quality products, and expanding Caterpillar's dealer network to include 258 dealers with as many employees as Caterpillar itself.

Louis B. Neumiller was known for his humility, integrity, and commitment to quality. As president of the Caterpillar Tractor Company from 1941-54, he led the manufacturer of earth-moving equipment through the challenges of World War II into global expansion. In the book In Their Time: The Greatest Business Leaders of the Twentieth Century, authors Mayo and Nohria describe Neumiller’s leadership as “success without fanfare.” His mark of greatness, they note, was that he took his identity out of the business and “let his company become a hero instead of himself.”

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