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It was one year ago this day, May 15, 2007, that the Ingersoll-Rand Company announced plans to sell off its Bobcat machinery division. Bobcat’s parent company was hoping to move out of the construction machinery business, but was willing to wait for the right offer. The “right” offer came three months later from the South Korean firm Doosan Infracore, who bought Bobcat for a total of 4.9 billion dollars.

Although it grew into a multi-billion dollar company, Bobcat can trace its roots to the Northern Prairies and two innovative brothers from Minnesota. In 1956, Eddie Velo presented Cy and Louis Keller with a rather pressing problem. He needed to clean manure from the small corners of his turkey barns, but all of his power equipment was too large to effectively operate in his small buildings. Furthermore, his barns had two stories, so not only did a new cleaner need to be small and maneuverable; it needed to be lightweight. The Keller brothers went to work. After scraping through the junkyard and the surrounding community for parts, they soon assembled a new cleaner for the turkey farmer. The machine was an instant success. It was agile, able to turn 360 degrees in its own track and had a good scoop, able to quickly clean anything Velo’s turkeys could throw at it.

It didn’t take long for the Keller brothers to realize their new invention had uses beyond a turkey farm. Seeing potential in this new small scoop machine, the Keller’s uncle, Anton Christianson, contacted Les Melroe of Melroe Manufacturing, based in Gwinner, North Dakota. Melroe was impressed with the new invention. After a short time he bought the rights to produce the small loader and hired Cy and Louis to further develop their invention. Three years later, the Keller brothers, working alongside Les’s brother Cliff Melroe, had greatly improved their machine. They developed a four-wheeled, skid-steered loader, big enough to handle a wide variety of jobs, yet small enough to fit in the back of a pickup. The Bobcat was thus born and the new invention moved Melroe Manufacturing into the construction industry, greatly expanding the company in the process. By 1967 the North Dakota based business was shipping Bobcats to Australia, and had established a European branch in Southampton England, pushing Melroe Manufacturing’s sales to 16.5 million dollars a year.

Although Melroe Manufacturing was eventually sold out-of-state and its name was changed to the Bobcat Company, the business still retains its North Dakota roots; maintaining factories in Bismarck and Gwinner, and its company headquarters in Fargo. The Bobcat Company may now have international owners, but its operations are still firmly planted in the same prairie that first gave it life.

Written by Lane Sunwall


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Forum Communications Co., "Melroe: Fathers of Invention" http://www.in-forum.com/specials/century/jan3/week12.htm (accessed May 3, 2008).

Karolevitz, Robert F. "E.G." Inventor by Necessity: The Story of E. G. Melroe and the Melroe Company. Second Edition ed. Aberdeen, SD: North Plains Press, 1968.

MacPherson, James, "Ingersoll Rand Wants to Sell, Spin Off Bobcat Company", Construction Equipment Guide http://www.constructionequipmentguide.com/story.asp?story=8697&headline=Ingersoll%20Rand%20Wants%20to%20Sell,%20Spin%20Off%20Bobcat%20Company (accessed May 3, 2008).

Zieminski, Nick, "Ingersoll-Rand Jumps on Bobcat Sale Price", Reuters http://www.reuters.com/article/hotStocksNews/idUSN3023327120070730 (accessed May 3, 2008).