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Robert J. Purcell

Robert Purcell
Robert J. Purcell

Distinguished Engineer

Hometown: Watertown

Mechanical Engineering,

Robert Purcell grew up on a farm west of Watertown. He attended country school and focused on vocational agriculture in high school. He then served in the U.S. Army in which he operated and repaired large construction equipment. With the benefit of the G.I. Bill, he enrolled at South Dakota State College in 1955, and received his B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1959. Following graduation, Purcell moved to Illinois to work for Caterpillar Tractor Company. After a year of receiving graduate training in the research department, he became a test engineer at the Peoria Proving Ground, which significantly impacted the remainder of his career. At his home, Purcell crafted the first model of the most notable of Caterpillar products, the large crawler tractors. His input was substantial in the development phase prior to first production of these models, which continues to have features that grew from the concept of a suspended undercarriage below an elevated drive train. Purcell enjoyed working on additional suspension designs of other applications using a robber belted undercarriage, which resulted in 28 patents and some military contracts. He retired in 1995.