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Summer 2009

Smithsonian Institution Acquires Bobcat Archives

Historical materials find permanent home

Bobcat historian Leroy Anderson hosted Craig Orr and Alison Oswald in Gwinner and Fargo N.D., as the pair searched through more than 50 years of Melroe and Bobcat materials as the company celebrated the Bobcat 50th anniversary.

Bobcat historian Leroy Anderson hosted Craig Orr and Alison Oswald in Gwinner and Fargo N.D., as the pair searched through more than 50 years of Melroe and Bobcat materials as the company celebrated the Bobcat 50th anniversary.

The Archives Center at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, in Washington, D.C., acquired 56 cubic feet of Bobcat Company records. The donated corporate records focus primarily on its products, marketing and advertising. "Through these records, we can learn a lot about the business practices of this once small family-owned company [Melroe Manufacturing] to its emergence as an industry leader [Bobcat Company]," said Alison Oswald, archivist.

The Bobcat Company records join other collections that detail the country's rich history in commerce, innovation and culture, from companies including Nike, Pepsi-Cola, Hills Bros. Coffee, and Zippo (lighter) Manufacturing Company, and the Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corporation to artists and composers such as Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, Bobby Short and Chico O'Farrill.

A museum archivist and a curator first visited Bobcat locations in Gwinner and West Fargo, N.D., in late 2007 to examine the Bobcat records and learn more about its early history as Melroe Manufacturing Company and the next five decades that helped Bobcat become the leader in compact equipment. They since returned to select materials for shipment.

"One of the great strengths of the collection is that it documents an agricultural invention from one of the Plains states, North Dakota. This small agricultural invention revolutionized not only a manufacturer, but the small town of Gwinner, North Dakota, where it is made today, and the international construction industry," Oswald notes.

Craig Orr appears next to Bobcat archive material ready to be catalogued for the Archive Center.

Craig Orr appears next to Bobcat archive material ready to be catalogued for the Archive Center.

The collection will serve a variety of scholars from those engaged in the history of invention, to those interested in business, advertising and agricultural history. The Bobcat Company records document the post-war invention process and the American manufacturing system, through the case study of a dynamic machine whose humble beginnings lay in turkey manure. The Bobcat Company records consist of photographs, slides, films, newsletters, posters, internal communications, advertising and promotional items.

The records are currently being processed and cataloged at the Archives Center where they are available for research. A display featuring the Bobcat Company records will be on view in November 2009.

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

Smithsonian archivists Craig Orr and Alison Oswald examine Bobcat materials to select items for the Archive Center at the National Museum of American History.

Smithsonian archivists Craig Orr and Alison Oswald examine Bobcat materials to select items for the Archive Center at the National Museum of American History.