Question #73003. Asked by star_gazer.
Last updated Sep 14 2017.
The first "bulldozers," however, were not machines, but violent bullies. The root meaning of "to bulldoze" (or as it appeared originally around 1876, "to bull-dose") was to beat someone extremely brutally, inflicting the "dose" of flogging one would give a bull. Some of the earliest "bull-dozers" were racist thugs who terrorized African-Americans in the post-Civil War South, conducting a campaign of terror that included brutal beatings and murder. "Bulldozer" or "bull-doser" was also used to describe thugs in general, and by about 1881, the term was being used as slang for a very large pistol, as in one 1881 account: "A Californian bull-doser is a pistol which carries a bullet heavy enough to destroy human life with certainty."
Given the use of "to bulldoze" as a synonym for "to intimidate through overwhelming force" and "bulldozer" as a label for anything that "gets the job done," it's not surprising that "to bulldoze" soon took on the metaphorical meaning, still used today, of "push through" or "overwhelm." And when, in the early 20th century, a machine was invented that could uproot, overturn, level or just overwhelm anything in its path, it made perfect sense to call the contraption a "bulldozer."