Our company got its start because hearty souls on the Northern Plains weren't satisfied with doing things the way they always had. Throughout the past half-century, our company and its employees have symbolized the innovative spirit, tenacity and personal pride that it takes to be successful.
Today—as it always has—our company emphasizes quality in products and workmanship, and cooperative relationships among customers, dealers, business associates, and employees. Our focus has always been to satisfy the demanding and continually changing needs of our customers.
We're proud of our company and our products, so if you don't find the information you're looking for, please let us know.
Welcome to the story of a home-grown, North Dakota company and its development of the world-famous Bobcat product line.
During the past five decades, the company and its products have changed to meet the world's needs. Today the Bobcat family includes skid-steer loaders, compact track loaders, all-wheel steer loaders, compact excavators, utility work machines, utility vehicles and job matched attachments.
Modern manufacturing techniques such as computer numeric control and robotics have been introduced, and stringent quality and cost control processes have helped us remain competitive in the world marketplace.
We have indeed gone through many changes. But one thing hasn't changed since 1947: Our commitment to outstanding quality and workmanship. The world sees it in every machine that rolls off the line.
To learn more about our company's rich heritage, select a chapter from the menu at the top of the page.
The Melroe Manufacturing Company was founded in 1947 by Edward Gideon "E.G." Melroe, the son of Norwegian immigrants. Located in the small community of Gwinner, North Dakota, the plant was established to meet the increasing demand for a grain harvesting attachment which E.G. had developed on his farm. The Melroe Pickup was E.G.'s first invention, a device used on combines that could efficiently pick up windrows of grain with minimal loss of kernels. His second was a spring-tooth harrow.
The company business revolved almost exclusively around production and sale of these two farm implements until the late 1950s. Following E.G.'s death in 1955, his sons Lester, Clifford, Roger and Irving, and son-in-law Eugene Dahl, took over the business. Clifford was its president.
E.G. Melroe, company founder, stands outside the first company factory that he built at Gwinner, ND, in 1948.
The Melroe business might have continued much in the same vein but for a fateful and important meeting in 1958 with Cyril and Louis Keller, brothers from Rothsay, Minnesota, who had a small machinist-blacksmith shop from which they repaired machinery for local farmers.
A couple of years earlier Eddie Velo, a turkey farmer, had come to the Keller brothers with a problem: He could not maneuver his loader around the upright poles in his barn. The Keller brothers agreed to help Velo by building a self-propelled loader light enough to be lifted up to the second floor of the barn and maneuverable enough to clean around the poles.
They searched local junkyards for materials and ideas. Finally they pieced together a 3-wheeled loader with two drive wheels in front and a small caster wheel in back. Powered by a 6 HP engine with a rope starter, it was steered by independent right and left control levers. The fork tines of the front scoop were made from bars taken from the windows of the local Rothsay jail, the only steel the Keller brothers could find that was hard enough to do the job.
The Turning Point
Word about the Keller invention got out. The Kellers' uncle, a Melroe farm equipment dealer at Elbow Lake, Minnesota, showed the loader to Les Melroe in the summer of 1958. Recognizing the potential the small loader had, Les and his brothers bought the rights to the invention, and Louis and Cyril Keller became employees of the Melroe Manufacturing Company, assigned to put the loader into production.
The Keller Loader, as the original machine was called, was improved with a larger 9 HP engine, and thus a new product line for the Melroe Company was born—the three-wheeled Melroe Self-Propelled Loader. Although the original model M-60 loader had several unique capabilities, including the ability to turn 360 degrees in its own length, it was apparent that further improvements were needed.
In 1959, Melroe came out with the M-200, a three-wheeled loader powered by a 12.9 HP gasoline engine and sporting the oval "Melroe" logo. Despite the improvements of the M-200 over the original Keller Loader, its three-wheel design still had several drawbacks, including lack of stability, power, and traction. A separate set of drive wheels was added to the back so the loader could pull itself through mud.
Thus, in 1960 was born the model M-400 which, with four-wheel-drive, was the first true skid-steer loader. Although this design was to revolutionize the world of compact material-handling technology, the M-400 did not set any sales records.
From 1960 through 1962, work continued on an improved version—the M-440—which was introduced to the marketplace in 1962.
The First "Bobcat"
At the same time (1962), attention was also given to a catchy name for the maneuverable loader. It was a Melroe associate who first suggested that the loader be called a "Bobcat" in honor of the prairie animal which was "tough, quick and agile."
A logo was developed which featured a bobcat animal leaping inside of double ovals. The logo and slogan, "tough, quick, agile," were used in nationwide advertising to promote the qualities of Melroe's unique machine. That logo appeared first on the M-440 and remained in use until 1977, when the new cathead design was introduced.
Further design improvements made the new M-444 model loader a real success in 1963. As this compact 4-wheel loader became more accepted, it quickly became apparent that it had uses in all kinds of applications in industry and construction. Thus, the product's capabilities brought a change to the Melroe organization, moving it away from its primary focus on the agricultural market.
By 1965, the Melroe plant in Gwinner was producing record numbers of Bobcat loaders to meet the demand of various markets from fertilizer plants to building and road contractors, from municipalities to foundries, and more.
By the late Sixties, the Melroe product line had grown to include the Melroe Pickup, the Harrowweeder, multiweeder, moldboard plows, and the increasingly popular Bobcat skid-steer loader. The moldboard plow came with Melroe's acquisition of Reiten Manufacturing of Cooperstown, N.D., in 1967.
At about the same time, interest in the Bobcat loader had spread beyond the shores stretching around North America. In 1965, Melroe moved into the European marketplace. A license agreement was signed with Luff & Smith of Southampton, England, to manufacture the Bobcat loader. Only two years later, however, this company went bankrupt, so new licensing arrangements were made with an Italian manufacturer, Beltrami, to manufacture for the European market.
Melroe's European operations became established in Belgium during the 1970s and the company began exporting directly from North Dakota. Since that time, the division has experienced dramatic growth, especially during the mid-1980s. Now based in Waterloo, just outside Brussels, Belgium, the European Served Area’s annual sales represent over a quarter of the company's worldwide sales. A staff of well over a hundred employees, based both in Waterloo and in the field, together with a network of distributors in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, ensures excellence in distribution and after-sales support.
The European office's distribution network continues to grow strongly as the markets in Central and Eastern Europe have begun to create a presence of their own. The company's strong commitment to growth in this area is underscored by the evolution of a new, rapidly growing network of distributors derived from what was only a handful of national importers in these countries just a few years ago. The establishment of this distribution network will ensure that Bobcat is the preferred brand name in compact equipment from Prague in the Czech Republic to Vladivostock, in the Southeast of Russia.
The 610 Mainstay
The popularity of the Bobcat loader and the other agricultural implements in Melroe's product line helped the company business to grow quickly. Between 1948 and 1968, the plant expanded with the addition of eight new buildings.
In 1968, Melroe came out with the M-600 model loader featuring a 1,000 lb (455 kg) rated operating capacity. From this evolved the model 610, which came about almost unintentionally. Foundry owners were complaining that the 600 wasn't standing up under the tough abrasive environment in foundries.
In response to this need, Melroe developed the "Foundry Special" which featured reinforced lift arms, tougher axles, case hardened hinge pins and some extra weld seams to beef up the machine. The "Foundry Special" became so popular that, even with the subsequent development of hydrostatic models, production of the 610 continued until the end of 1981 when it finally was discontinued.
By the end of the 1960s, it became clear that in order to keep pace with the demands of a growing and evolving marketplace, Melroe needed additional resources. This came in 1969 when Melroe was acquired by Clark Equipment Company and became known as the Melroe Division. Most importantly with this change, Melroe had access to additional financial resources for vigorous expansion.
Continuing with its innovation, in 1970 Melroe introduced the exclusive Bob-Tach quick-change attachment system which enabled the loader to be transformed quickly and effortlessly into a multi-job machine. Although it has been revised and redesigned numerous times, the Bob-Tach system has been a mainstay ever since, and one that hundreds of thousands of Bobcat loader operators use many times a day.
In the same year, Melroe came out with the M-970 "Big-Bob" Bobcat loader designed to handle jobs too small for heavy equipment and too big for most compact machines. This loader had a one cubic yard (0.764 cubic meter) capacity, hydrostatic drive and could be equipped with either a gasoline or diesel engine.
A powerful backhoe attachment was made to go with the 970 loader in addition to a variety of quick-change buckets. Another important improvement was the introduction of an operator guard—or rollover protective structure (ROPS)—which became a standard feature on all subsequent models.
It was in that era that Melroe launched into a new specialized product, the Bobcat Feller Buncher, aimed at the forestry market. Using a frame similar to the 970 and a powerful set of hydraulic jaws, the Bobcat 1070 Feller Buncher was introduced in 1970. Eventually, it was replaced by the 1080 in the 1980s, and a second model—the six-wheeled 1213—was produced in 1985. The market unpredictability of the forestry business eventually led Melroe to sell off the Feller Buncher business assets in 1987.
In 1971, still another important innovation came with the introduction of the world's smallest skid-steer loader, the M-371 "Mini-Bob" loader, designed to operate in the most restrictive areas with a rated operating capacity of 500 lb (227 kg). It was only 6 ft (1.83 m) high, 8 ft (2.44 m) long and 35 inches (890 mm) wide.
In 1973, Melroe purchased Kirschmann Manufacturing Company in Bismarck, North Dakota, and added the popular Spra-Coupe crop sprayer to its line of agricultural products. A chisel plow was added to Melroe's line with the purchase of Gysler Manufacturing, of Ft. Benton, Mont., that year.
During the 1970s, the Melroe Company also expanded its Bobcat loader markets into Latin America and the Asia Pacific region, and established a licensee to manufacture and market in Japan.
Melroe introduced the M-700 Bobcat loader, with 1,200 lb (545 kg) rated operating capacity, in 1973. The M-700 was Melroe's first hydrostatic loader in that size, marking the beginning of the "end" of the clutch-drive era that continued until the early 1980s. The frame, lift arms and working components were designed to stand up under the toughest conditions, and it had immediate appeal in construction and industry.
In 1974, still another larger model loader was added to the range: the model 825, featuring a rated operating capacity of 1,500 lb (682 kg).
In 1976 came the model 520 loader—the first of the "New Breed" designs that resulted in the 30 Series a year later. Also in 1976, Melroe's corporate office was moved from Gwinner to Fargo.
The 30 Series
In 1977, the production of 30 Series Bobcat loader was begun with the introduction of the 530 and 630 loaders. Along with this new series—which featured an entirely new machine design from earlier models—came important improvements in the cab, seat, engine compartment and armrest, among others.
By 1979, Melroe's sales had reached $210 million. The 30 Series line was expanded with the introduction of the "heavy-duty" 731 Bobcat.
With the 1980s came important new changes in manufacturing techniques, including the introduction of robots to handle such jobs as welding and painting.
The seat bar, an important new feature in operator safety, was introduced in 1981.
The 40 Series
1982 brought the introduction of the 40 Series loaders featuring fully hydrostatic drive. That same year, Melroe expanded production of Bobcat loaders to the Bismarck plant in addition to Gwinner.
It was during the early 1980s that Melroe made a strategic business change to become more focused in its product lines. The economy was in a serious recession, farming practices were changing, and the cyclical nature of the agricultural market led Melroe management to divest its farm implements—the grain drills, tillage equipment and, eventually, Melroe's original product, the Windrow Pickup.
In 1984, The company went through a name change and adopted a new company logo. Formerly a division of Clark Equipment Company, Melroe became known as Melroe Company, a business unit of Clark Equipment Company.
In 1985, Melroe introduced the 943 Bobcat loader with 2,400 lb (1,089 kg) rated operating capacity. Built with a solid steel frame, the 943 is designed specifically for heavy-duty industrial work. In the same year, the compact Farmboy Bobcat loader was introduced to the farm market as a low-cost machine, later to be known as the 440B.
Excavators & Trenchers
The company launched into two new markets in 1986—trenchers and compact hydraulic or "mini" excavators—in an attempt to diversify its firm base in compact equipment. However, in an effort to focus more on its core businesses, Melroe management decided to divest the trencher business in 1991.
The mini-excavator business has thrived, however, thanks to a strong European market and growing North American interest. After several years of purchasing excavators on an OEM basis from Japanese and French suppliers, in 1989 the company began building its own excavators at Bismarck, N.D.
In 1987, Melroe introduced the world's largest skid-steer loader—the Bobcat 980—with planetary final drive and a rated capacity of 4,000 lb (1,816 kg).
Fortune magazine named the Bobcat skid-steer loader to its "America's Best" list—100 American-made products that represent the best of their kind, anywhere in the world—in 1988. The honor was repeated in 1991, the second (and only) time the Fortune list was compiled by industry experts and business analysts.
The 50 Series
By 1990, the 50 Series generation of loaders was launched with the introduction of the 753 and 853 loaders, equipped with an innovative, state-of-the-art diagnostic and monitoring system known as the Bobcat Operation Sensing System or BOSS.
In 1991, Melroe began production of the 853H high hydraulic horsepower loader designed to provide increased hydraulic fluid flow to run special attachments such as the planer and demolition shear.
In 1992, Melroe began production of the 7753 "lift and carry" loader, a departure from the traditional "radius path" lift arm design that had been the mainstay of the Bobcat line from the beginning. The 7753 used a multiple linkage lift arm arrangement to achieve a vertical lift path and greater capacity. Due to its longer wheelbase and wider tread width, the 7753 also produced a smoother ride and faster travel speed than was possible before.
In 1993, Melroe introduced the high hydraulic horsepower 753H, a smaller version of the 853H. Through the years, many different models have been introduced to replace older designs or, in some cases, to fill a gap in the product line opened up by changing market conditions. Such is the case with the long-wheelbase 873, 863H, 763H and 773 models, which are now meeting needs that were met previously with dedicated-use equipment or other substitutes. Today those models are known as the S150, S160, S175, S185, S220, S250, S300 and S330.
The Third Generation
The third generation of Bobcat mini-excavators—the 300 Series—was also introduced to the world in 1993. Those models were updated in 1996 to the C-Series, with more performance features, including multi-function hydraulics. Subsequent changes to the excavator lineup include the 400 series with zero tail swing designs. To date, we are the only company to manufacture mini-excavators in the United States.
The company continually reviews its products to be certain that they are meeting the needs of customers worldwide. As history has shown, sometimes that means products are discontinued, often due to low volumes which make it difficult to achieve manufacturing efficiencies.
In 1993, the company discontinued three products—the 1600 and 2410 articulated loaders and the 980 skid-steer loader—all of which were made in Bismarck. That move enabled the company to expand its production of mini-excavators, which saw an upsurge in the North American market in 1993.
Today, our company has nearly 1000 Bobcat dealers in 90 countries. The European marketing and distribution center in Belgium supports Bobcat sales throughout Europe, the Middle East, Russia and Africa. The Asia Pacific market is supported from an office in Singapore. The headquarters office for the Japanese market is in Yokohama, Japan, and the Latin American market is served from offices in Miami, Fla.
In 1995, Melroe and its parent Clark organization were acquired by Ingersoll-Rand Company of Woodcliff Lake, N.J. Ingersoll-Rand is a leading manufacturer of construction equipment and industrial machinery with more than 40,000 employees worldwide.
The Melroe Spra-Coupe product was sold to AGCO Corporation in July 1998. Also in 1998, the Bobcat Attachments Division grew with the acquisition of Palm Attachment Sales, a Minnesota firm which has been been manufacturing skid-steer loader attachments since the mid-80s.
In 2007, Ingersoll Rand made a strategic decision to divest the Bobcat business, and announced the sale of the company to Doosan Infracore of South Korea.
Meanwhile, from its North Dakota base, the company continues to lead the compact equipment industry in every aspect of equipment design, development and marketing, thanks to an innovative, pioneering spirit that continues to permeate the entire organization.