Bobcat: 50 Years Of Skid-Steer Loaders

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | August 2008 Vol. 63 No. 8
Cyril Keller, co-inventor of the compact loaders, is shown using the original Melroe skid-steer loader for a marketing demonstra

The new machine clearly had great potential for other farm and construction applications, but the Kellers lacked the resources to produce and market large numbers of machines. As they considered what their next step should be, the Melroe Manufacturing Co., a farm equipment manufacturer in Gwinner, ND, entered the picture. After seeing the Keller loader, the Melroe brothers, who owned the company, were immediately interested and offered the Kellers space to show their loader in the Melroe exhibit at the 1958 Minnesota State Fair. The machine drew so much attention, the Melroes and the Kellers struck a deal, and the Kellers moved to Gwinner, setting the stage for production of the M 60 Melroe Self Propelled Loader later that year.

The small loader proved to be a viable product. Improvements came quickly and the second model – the M 200 – had a more robust lift arm assembly and updated two cylinder engine.

To be successful in the marketplace, it was determined that the new product needed improved traction and something other than a rear caster wheel for maneuvering. The design team added a rear axle and changed the machine's weight distribution ratio. Extending the length six inches added stability but still enabled the machine to turn in its tracks. The result was a loader that, when empty, had 70 percent of its weight on the rear wheels, 30 percent on the front wheels. When loaded, the ratio reversed, providing excellent traction and maneuverability. In 1960, the new machine was introduced as the M 400, the world's first compact skid steer loader.

Durability continued to be an issue that nearly scrapped the fledgling Melroe loader project. But in 1961, the brothers set about to develop an entirely new design with enclosed chain cases and better lubrication. The improved model was introduced in 1962 as the M 440 and became the skid steer loader blueprint that would be used for many years and remains a basic design element in today's skid steer equipment.

The same year, the Bobcat brand name and logo were introduced. The Bobcat, an animal known for being tough, quick and agile, seemed to perfectly describe the Melroe skid steer loader.

Clearly, Melroe had a winner, but the story had just begun – product improvements and new models were to come at a steady pace.

History of success