Bobcat Finds a Home at the Smithsonian

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The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History recently acquired 56 cubic feet of records from Bobcat Co., which manufactures compact construction and agricultural equipment and is based in North Dakota. This donation includes corporate records relating to American manufacturing and marketing as well as business development. Housed in the museum’s Archives Center, these papers join the museum’s extensive collection of agricultural, industrial and business papers. A selection of these records is scheduled to be on view from Nov. 30 through Jan. 17, 2010.

Bobcat Co. originated as Melroe Manufacturing Co., a Gwinner, N.D., family-owned agricultural equipment maker founded in 1947. The original compact loader was invented by Louis and Cyril Keller, who operated a small family blacksmith shop in Rothsay, Minn. Based on a request from a local turkey farmer, the brothers set out to develop a small loader that was lighter and more maneuverable. After a few prototypes, a move to North Dakota and an acquisition by Melroe Manufacturing Co., the three-wheeled Keller loader went into production in 1958 as the “Melroe self-propelled loader.” In 1962, as a four-wheeled model, it was branded the “Bobcat” skid-steer loader, because of its “tough, quick and agile” characteristics and “skid-steering” ability to turn within its own length. This single product became so successful that the company later took the Bobcat name, while adding several other machines to its product line.

“Bobcat Co. of North Dakota represents the ingenuity and innovation of American business,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. “These records contribute to the better understanding of American entrepreneurship.”

The Bobcat Co. records focus primarily on production, marketing and advertising. They span a period from the 1940s to the present and illustrate the progression of a once-small, family-owned company that emerged as an industry leader. The donation includes photographs, product literature, advertisements, employee newsletters, drawings, scrapbooks and audiovisual materials. The collection also contains notes on a 1985 trip to Japan where employees learned about Japanese manufacturing and engineering techniques, some of which were implemented in Bobcat factories. These papers are available for research and complement the Archives Center’s agricultural holdings, which include the Everett Bickley Collection, the William C. Kost Farm Records and the Southern Agricultural Oral History Project.

“Equipment industry experts have called Bobcat a national treasure, and we are pleased the Smithsonian archivists agreed that our materials should be preserved for future generations,” said Leroy Anderson, marketing communication manager and Bobcat historian.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. After a two-year renovation and a dramatic transformation, the museum shines new light on American history, both in Washington and online. To learn more about the museum, check americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).

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