Louis and Cyril Keller, the inventors of the Bobcat skid-steer loader, were selected earlier this year as inductees into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
The 2023 celebration of American innovators features 16 inductees who were named in conjunction with Thomas Edison’s birthday and National Inventors Day on Feb. 11. The Greatest Celebration of American Innovation will occur on Oct. 25 and 26, also celebrating the NIHF founding in 1971, when Thomas Edison was the sole inductee.
The brothers played a key role in launching the compact equipment industry in the late 1950s and early 1960s with their invention of the world’s first compact loader, which became the Bobcat skid-steer loader.
It all started for the Keller brothers in the 1950s when they returned from World War II and opened a machinist and blacksmith shop in Rosthay, Minnesota. Despite having no schooling past the eighth grade, the brothers designed a solution for cleaning turkey manure in tight spaces in just six weeks.
The first version was a small, lightweight, three-wheeled front-end loader made from junkyard and mechanic parts. It later became a four-wheeled model and was given the name Bobcat.
Although farmers were initially unsure about the wheel-free machine, product demonstrations helped make the original sales.
After a successful demonstration week at the 1958 Minnesota State Fair, Melroe Manufacturing Company won exclusive manufacturing rights, hiring the Keller brothers to help produce the machine.
The first four-wheeled skid steer was offered in the 1960s and named the M400. The M440 was the first model to enter the market with the Bobcat name in 1962.
Over a million Bobcats have been sold worldwide. In 2004, the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers recognized the Kellers’ skid-steer loader as a Historic Landmark.
The Kellers were inducted into the Association of Equipment Manufacturers Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame in 2004.
The Keller brothers’ NIHF induction will be posthumous. Cyril Keller passed away on Oct. 28, 2020, at 98, and Louie Keller died on July 11, 2010, at 87.
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Author: Heidi Crnkovic