SEARS, LESTER MERRIAM (13 May 1888-20 Feb. 1967) was an engineer who invented the gasoline-powered industrial tractor, the forklift industrial truck and founded the Towmotor Corporation of Cleveland.
Sears was born to Frederick Wayland and Anna (Merriam) Sears in Ravenna, Nebraska, where he attended grade school. He attended high school in Minneapolis and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1912.
Sears was an associate consulting engineer in Minneapolis from 1912-1915. In 1916 he came to Cleveland as an assistant factory manager for the PEERLESS MOTOR CAR CO. In 1918 the Secretary of War assigned Sears to a special mission as valuator of public utilities in New Orleans.
After the war Sears returned to Cleveland. In 1919 Sears organized the Towmotor Company with his father to manufacture the gasoline propelled tractors he had spent a year designing and developing. Called the "towmotor," this tractor was the company's mainstay until 1933 when Sears invented the forklift to carry and stack heavy loads. It helped make Towmotor an industrial truck leader by 1944. Sears was Towmotor's director of operations, 1919-1934; president, 1934-1951; and chairman of the board, 1951-1965. When the Caterpillar Tractor Co. purchased Towmotor in 1965, Sears remained as honorary chairman until his death.
In 1949 Sears established the Lester M. Sears Foundation (see SEARS-SWETLAND FAMILY FOUNDATION) to support local health, education and environmental research. In 1966 Sears donated $1 million each to Case Tech for a humanities center and to Western Reserve University for a medical center (see CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY).
Sears married Ruth Parker in 1914. They had one daughter, Mary Ann (Swetland). Sears is buried in LAKE VIEW CEMETERY.