The caterpillar track was revolutionary in the business of defense.
You can find variations of this technological advancement dating back to the 1770’s with several different inventors trying to revolutionize and patent the continuous track. For forty years, a British politician named Richard Lovell Edgeworth tried to figure out the caterpillar track and came up with a “cart that carries its own road.” In the 1830’s, British and Russian inventors seemed to be racing toward figuring out just how to perfect and (more importantly) patent the technology that was before us. The idea was to take the wheel and take the railroad and find a way where Doc Brown was correct in saying, “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
In 1946, a British engineer named James Boydell came up with the Dreadnaught Wheel, which is essentially a way for wheels to grip the roads and railways, but it was far too bulky to have consistent, practical use. The caterpillar track was really going to be the progressive way to move large modes of transportation without needing manicured roads and paths. By being able to make it an all-terrain track, you were showing that very few obstacles could stop you from getting your cargo, in whatever shape, form, or use it may be, where it needed to be with even weight distribution to prevent breakdowns in structure and sinking into the ground. This sinking into the ground was a problem when there wasn’t concrete and asphalt to provide a proper layer between vehicles and dirt.
John Fowler patented the “endless railway” in 1858, but it was Russian Fyodor Blinov in 1873 that created the caterpillar-type links to further the idea of what Fowler had created. While various inventors and engineers played around with this ever-evolving method of distributing a safe and sturdy mode of freighting, it finally took hold in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as one of the most impressive avenues for military weaponry and destruction that we still see today.
This technology kept incrementally improving over the years and in 1901 Alvin Orlando Lombard used his patented version of the continuous track to create steam powered log haulers. Eventually, his company would move toward creating combustible engine-powered log haulers but this was a huge advancement in finding ways to move this huge freight. An American inventor named Benjamin Holt took this to the next and biggest level, offering up $60,000 to Lombard in exchange for being allowed to use his patent as part of manufacturing vehicles.
Lombard accepted the offer, which in today’s economy would be in the neighborhood of $1.7 million to use his patent. The Holt Manufacturing Company made tractors with this technology and business was good for them. The Holt tractors that had been developed for over a decade were being used during World War I by the British forces. They’d transport big artillery and eventually this entire system of transportation and freighting led to the construction of the Mark I tank, created by the British around 1915 and 1916.
Tanks were needed to move heavy artillery in a safe, fully encompassed vehicle that could also navigate its way over trenches. It had taken the first armored cars created in Austria in the early 1900’s and added the caterpillar track to these railway-based vehicles. Now these armored cars had the mobility of a tractor and the protection needed to withstand firepower and dish out death and destruction of their own. The tank wasn’t necessarily a new concept, having roots dating back to designs by Leonardo Da Vinci in the 15th century. It was man-powered (no engines yet) and had cannons all around. But the lack of technology made this a fruitful weapon or combat vehicle to create.
Armored vehicles with weaponry were suggested and discussed by various forces. The French, Austrians, Australians, Russians, and British forces all had engineers and designers trying to figure out a way to make this come to fruition. Ideas were rejected, either because they weren’t thought to be feasible technologically speaking or they weren’t thought to be complete enough to carry out. Regardless, Great Britain finally figured it out with the Mark I.
Once the Mark I hit the market, the British were quick to create more advanced versions of it. Over the next two years, Mark II, Mark III, and Mark IV were all created and tested in war. Some of the designs and applications were primitive and still halted by certain technology that couldn’t be solved. However, they were delivering supplies, navigating nearly impossible terrain on the battlefields, and eventually taking over territories needed to secure progress in the war. Improved transmissions and engines along with upgrades in armaments kept the production lines humming in Britain. Over 2,500 tanks were produced during World War I, which helped because the Germans would commandeer the tanks and use them as their own weapons.
By World War II, all armies were flush with tanks and used them as crucial battlefield weaponry. Not only were tanks used as demolition crews rolling through fields, chewing bubblegum, and taking names, but they were armored scouts. Tanks would traverse enemy territories, point out the key areas to attack, and radio to air support for bombing runs to take out those strongholds. The tactical application of tanks was brilliant, especially by the German armies. It wasn’t just the battering ram knocking down doors, but it was also the rook on the chessboard or the Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs’ attack.
As battles and warfare have advanced past the field and into the skies with improved technology in planes, drones, and missiles, the tank has become a less useful tool as a weapon and essentially serves as a giant shield for the ground infantry that will occupy areas and traverse foreign lands. Tank combat isn’t necessary anymore, aside from providing cover fire when moving soldiers into new areas. It doesn’t show a weakness in tank technology per se, as much as it shows that advancing technologies elsewhere always leads to a new way of protecting and attacking targets.
Regardless of what the weapon ends up being, you always need to caterpillar track to be invented in whatever form that new weaponry technology ends up being. Sometimes, you don’t even know which weapon that technology will lead to. The caterpillar track had practical uses in every day and business life, but eventually it gets exploited for the use of protecting or attacking different nations.
What does this have to do with the Wolves–Knicks overtime game? Nothing really. I guess you could say the Wolves are in the development stages of figuring out how to create and patent their own version of the caterpillar track on the court. Eventually, someone will come along and figure out a way to properly weaponize it and then you’ll see real progress commence in this “battle of trying to compete for an NBA championship.” The Wolves had to rest eight players due to injuries and ailments Thursday night and the Knicks have… well… Alexey Shved is their best player right now.
I just think when you’re watching two tanks do battle on the court in the NBA, it’s interesting to know where the technology and advancements in tanking technology came from. It came from the caterpillar track.