Cyril and Louis Keller, the brothers who invented the world’s first compact loader (later named the Bobcat skid steer loader), have formally been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF).
The Keller brothers were posthumously recognized during the NIHF Illumination and Induction Ceremonies held Oct. 25-26 in Washington, D.C.
The National Inventors Hall of Fame recognizes inventors, promotes creativity and advances the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. Bobcat representatives, along with members of the Keller family, were in attendance to celebrate the entry into the NIHF.
“The ingenuity of the Keller brothers spurred the compact equipment industry,” said Mike Ballweber, President of Doosan Bobcat North America. “Today at Bobcat, their spirit of inventiveness lives on, as our organization continues to innovate for the jobsite of the future and empower our customers to accomplish more.”
The Illumination Ceremony at the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum was celebrated Oct. 25 in Alexandria, Virginia. New inductees or their family members placed their names on illuminated hexagons in the museum’s Gallery of Icons. Members of the Keller family represented Cyril and Louis in this symbolic ceremony.
The 2023 National Inventors Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony was held Oct. 26 at The Anthem in Washington, D.C., where the new Inductee class was honoured for its contributions to society.
“If Dad and Cyril were here to accept this award, they would accept it for all the early and current Bobcat employees that have all helped bring the little Keller loader to be the Bobcat machine it is today,” said Joe Keller, son of Louis. “There is no one that the Bobcat loader hasn’t affected or helped through life—even though they may not know it.”
In the 1950s, brothers Cyril (1922-2020) and Louis (1923-2010) operated a small machinist-blacksmith shop in Minnesota, building and repairing machinery for local farmers.
A farmer approached them with a need for a self-propelled loader light enough to be lifted to the second floor of a turkey barn and small enough to clean around the barn’s upright poles.
In 1957, the Kellers built a three-wheeled loader with two drive wheels in front and a caster wheel in the rear, which was the precursor to the modern skid-steer loader.
The loader came to the attention of Melroe Manufacturing Company (now Bobcat Company), which was awarded exclusive manufacturing rights to the machine on a royalty basis. Melroe hired the Kellers to refine the design and put the machine into production.
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To improve the design of the loader, a second set of drive wheels was added to the back of the loader in 1960. With four-wheel drive, the M400 became the world’s first true skid steer loader. Skid steer describes the unique steering system that enables the machine to turn within its own length. Later, the Bobcat brand name was established because of the machine’s toughness, quickness and agility.
In celebration of this recognition, Bobcat has its history on display in a new exhibit within the NIHF Museum. The museum exhibit features one of the Keller brothers’ original three-wheel loaders, along with a timeline of Bobcat’s history and a video display highlighting various aspects of Bobcat’s products, people and initiatives.
The Bobcat exhibit will be on display through April 2024.