Haycraft, William R. 1929–

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Haycraft, William R. 1929–

(William Russell Haycraft)


Born December 7, 1929.


Home—Peoria, IL.


Caterpillar, Inc., Peoria, IL, executive, international marketing, thirty-five years.


Yellow Steel: The Story of the Earthmoving Equipment Industry, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 2000.

Unraveling Vietnam: How American Arms and Diplomacy Failed in Southeast Asia, McFarland & Co. (Jefferson, NC), 2005.


Born December 7, 1929, William R. Haycraft retired from his career as an international marketing executive after thirty-five years with Caterpillar, Inc., a leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment located in Peoria, Illinois.

Given his long career with Caterpillar, Haycraft was well positioned to write his first book, Yellow Steel: The Story of the Earthmoving Equipment Industry. The book encompasses a one-hundred-year history of how earthmoving equipment evolved in response to agricultural and construction needs and the development of new technologies. Haycraft examines this history from its beginnings in 1835 through its early development to 1945, then looks at the changes that took place over the next five decades. Haycraft concludes Yellow Steel with an assessment of the current state of the earthmoving industry and his projections of what will happen to it in the future.

During the nineteenth century, steam tractors were used to plow fields, but they often became stuck in mud and were hard to extricate because they were so heavy. In 1904 Benjamin Holt, one of the founders of Caterpillar, Inc., tested a machine that added a treaded track around the wheels, effectively creating a flat, portable road bed on which the tractor could move. The caterpillar track was hugely successful and was used not only on tractors but also on other vehicles that needed to move over uneven or uncertain terrain, most notably on the tanks used in combat during World War I.

According to Haycraft, however, Robert G. LeTourneau proved to be the greatest contributor to the development of earthmoving equipment. He designed a way for the crawler tractor to both push and pull, invented the bulldozer by creating a cable winch capable of raising and lowering a heavy blade, and devised the first single machine able to move massive amounts of earth and rock.

From its agricultural beginnings, earthmoving equipment evolved to meet the needs of the construction industry, expanding its own technology to exploit developments in the power supply. As factories, roads, dams, and canals were built, industry required that enormous quantities of earth and rock be moved, while at the same time energy sources were changing from steam to hydraulics to gasoline and diesel. After World War II, construction became even more ambitious with the advent of the interstate highway system and the burgeoning market for the mining of ores and metals.

In their review of Yellow Steel in Farm Collector, Chester Peterson, Jr., and Willard Keding praised Haycraft for writing "with great care and objectivity," adding that the book, "in just the right amount of detail, calls attention to interesting earthmoving milestones." John Armstrong, in his review of Yellow Steel in Business History, especially liked the early history, saying it "brings together the various dynamic elements creating an earth moving equipment industry largely out of the agricultural machinery makers," and he admired Yellow Steel for being "well written, readable, well illustrated, and a useful source book."

In Unraveling Vietnam: How American Arms and Diplomacy Failed in Southeast Asia Haycraft expresses his opinions about how the Vietnam War should have been fought. Called a "revisionist work" by Paul B. Gardner in Military Review, Haycraft posits that not only was the war necessary, but it also could have been won had the U.S. not pursued a limited war strategy.

To support his argument, Haycraft analyzes how the actions and policies of the various wartime presidents affected the development and outcome of the war. He also provides a history of Vietnam, including the French occupation, and suggests that the outcome of Word War II and the ensuing Cold War were important elements in involving the United States in the politics of Vietnam. Gardner's review of Unraveling Vietnam credited Haycraft for pointing out "U.S. failures to understand the enemy and the type of war the nation was fighting." He also wrote that Haycraft "succeeds in calling into question much of the orthodox positions" on the war and said the book was "well-written and provides a good overview of the war."



Business History, January 1, 2001, John Armstrong, review of Yellow Steel: The Story of the Earthmoving Equipment Industry, p. 156.

Business History Review, June 22, 2000, Michael Fein, review of Yellow Steel, p. 340.

Civil Engineering, March 1, 2000, review of Yellow Steel, p. 76.

Farm Collector, June 1, 2002, Chester Peterson, Jr., and Willard Keding, "How ‘Yellow Steel’ Has Transformed Our Lives," p. 51.

History: Review of New Books, January 1, 2006, Judith R. Johnson, review of Unraveling Vietnam: How American Arms and Diplomacy Failed in Southeast Asia, p. 40.

Journal of Economic History, September 1, 2000, Tomas Nonnenmacher, review of Yellow Steel, p. 913.

Journal of Economic Literature, March 1, 2003, review of Yellow Steel, p. 318.

Labor History, February 1, 2001, Margaret Walsh, review of Yellow Steel, p. 84.

Labour/Le Travail, March 22, 2000, review of Yellow Steel, p. 341.

Military Review, November 1, 2006, Paul B. Gardner, review of Unraveling Vietnam.

Reference & Research Book News, February 1, 2006, review of Unraveling Vietnam.

Technology and Culture, April 1, 2001, Bruce E. Seely, review of Yellow Steel, p. 363.

Vietnam, December 1, 2006, Peter Brush, review of Unraveling Vietnam, p. 66.


McFarland & Co. Press Web site,http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/ (June 5, 2008) summary of Unraveling Vietnam and short author biography.

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