PEORIA — The Holt name is as synonymous with Caterpillar Inc. as the famous yellow hue that makes a Cat machine instantly recognizable from afar.

Benjamin Holt was the first person to create a commercially viable track-type tractor from one of the steam-powered machines made in his Holt Manufacturing Co. factory in California.

The machines would not officially earn the Caterpillar name until a few years after the first one flattened grass in a field outside the Holt plant on Thanksgiving Day in 1904 — though the idea was first floated in 1905 by a photographer who compared the tractor's movements to those of a butterfly larva.

That type of historical detail is highlighted in an exhibit that opened Wednesday at the Doug Oberhelman Caterpillar Visitors Center amid a display of meticulously restored vintage tractors.

The exhibit, "Holt: Tracks Around the World," focuses on the namesake founder and the first machines to incorporate the now-ubiquitous method for locomotion on heavy equipment.

The company moved to the Peoria area in 1909 to create a Midwestern manufacturing presence and locate production closer to a group of core customers: farmers.

Holt brought the Caterpillar trademark with him and merged with another local manufacturer, C.L. Best Tractor Co., in 1925 — when the famous tractor model name became the name of the company itself.

The Caterpillar Visitors Center at 110 SW Washington St. is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with $7 general admission tickets and other discounted options available at the door.

Other items featured in the new exhibit include a drafting table used by Holt engineers in the first East Peoria plant and a line drawing of the original Caterpillar logo.

Matt Buedel can be reached at 686-3154 or mbuedel@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @JournoBuedel.