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History and Evolution of the Bobcat Design

Aug 17, 2007
The Melroe Manufacturing Company was founded in 1947 by Edward Gideon "E.G." Melroe, the son of Norwegian immigrants. It was located in a small town by the name of Gwinner, North Dakota.

E.G. had developed a grain harvesting attachment and spring-tooth harrow on his farm, and the demand from surrounding farms was so great that he had to develop a plant to produce the product. His very first invention was called the Melroe Pickup. It was used on combines to pick up windrows of grain without losing too many kernels.

Until the late 1950s, the company revolved exclusively around these two farm implements. There was no need to branch out, because these were doing a brisk business. When E.G. died in 1955, his sons Lester, Clifford, Roger and Irving, along with his son-in-law, Eugene Dahl, took over the business. Clifford became the president.

The brothers were planning on continuing the business along the same lines as their father. However, in 1957, two brothers from Minnesota, Cyril and Louis Keller, met with Eddie Velo. Velo was a turkey farmer, while the Kellers were machinists who repaired machinery for local farmers.

Velo had a problem. He could not drive his loader around the poles in his barn. The Kellers said they would help him by trying to build a loader that could maneuver around the poles and be light enough to lift up to the second floor of his barn.

After searching through junkyards and scrap heaps for supplies and ideas, they created a 3-wheeled loader. It had 6 horse powers with a rope starter and was steered by two separate right and left control levels. The only steel the brothers could find that was strong enough to be fork tines came from the bars over the windows of the local jail.

Soon, word spread about the new invention. It just so happened that the brothers' uncle was a Melroe farm equipment dealer in Minnesota. He showed the loader to Lester Melroe. He recognized the potential for this loader, and he and his brothers bought the rights to the invention. The Keller brothers were hired on as employees at the Melroe Manufacturing Company.

The original machine was called the Keller Loader. Once bought by Melroe, it was improved with a 9 horse power engine and the name was changed to the Melroe Self-propelled Loader. Although the loader had several unique capabilities, it still needed further improvements.

Soon, a new model was born. It was called the M-200 and was powered by a 12.9 horse powered gas engine. Although it was a great improvement over the original Keller Loader, it still lacked stability, power and traction. A separate set of driving wheels was added in the back so the loader could pull itself through the mud.

In 1960, the M-44 was born. It had four-wheel-drive and was the first true skid steer loader. Although in the future this model would revolutionize compact material-handling technology, the M-400 was not a big seller.

For the next two years, from 1960-1962, work continued on improving the M-400. The improved version, the M-440, was introduced on the market in 1962. At the same time, Melroe Company decided they needed a catchy name to go with their new maneuverable loader. An associate suggested the name "Bobcat" because, like the prairie animal, it was "tough, quick and agile."

This slogan and the accompanying new logo were used nationwide to promote the M-440 and its uniqueness. They remained in use until the late 1970s, when it was updated.
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