Bobcat Skid-Steer loader

The term 'Bobcat' defines skid-steer loaders, but the invention came from the need to clean up something nasty in a North Dakota barn.

BOB’S YOUR DIGGER: two brothers designed a machine to fit where previously only a shovel would go. Note the lack of falling object protection on the
BOB’S YOUR DIGGER: two brothers designed a machine to fit where previously only a shovel would go. Note the lack of falling object protection on the

The term 'Bobcat' defines skid-steer loaders, but the invention came from the need to clean up something nasty in a North Dakota barn.

Back in 1957 brothers Louis and Cyril Keller needed to help a farmer clear out a barn. This seemed like a lot of hard work, so as the chaps were of a mechanical bent, they decided to build a machine to help them do it.

Even if the farmer had a regular hydraulic loader it would be too big to turn around the beams, so the machine they built had to be small and maneuverable.

However, it would have to be more flexible than a fork lift truck as the stuff they needed to move was, well, sticky and smelly.

The machine they came up with was really narrow - just a couple of feet wide. It also had two driven front wheels and a single rear wheel that swiveled, similar to that on a shopping trolley.

As a result it was able to turn in its own footprint and was extremely practical.

The following year, another pair of brothers, the Melroes, bought the rights for this machine from the Kellers, with the original duo continuing to design and refine the machine.

The first Melroe Bobcat went on sale in 1958 and was a success, selling to farms and construction sites alike.

The following year an improved design with four wheels and skid steering was introduced.

This made the machine more robust and gave it greater stability over bumpy ground.

The new product was known as the Melroe M-400 and quickly renamed the Melroe Bobcat and very quickly other manufacturers started building very similar machines.

Melroe attempted to stop the term 'Bobcat' becoming a generic term for skid-steer loaders, though with little success.

It barely mattered however, as the compact machines from Gwinner, North Dakota had by far, the largest share of the market.

By the 1970's the company had manufactured lots of variants, including an electrically powered version.

In 1969 the Clark Equipment Company bought Melroe, and therefore Bobcat. Road-roller company Ingersoll-Rand in turn took over in 1995 and renamed the whole plant 'Bobcat'

However the whole Bobcat operation was bought by Doosan Infracore as part of its global expansion strategy.

This remains the same now, with both Bobcat and Doosan branded skid-steer loaders and attachments.

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