Updated Nov. 2020: Sadly Cyril “Cy” Keller, inventor of the world’s first compact loader and former Bobcat employee, passed away on October 28, 2020. His legacy lives on at the millions jobsites worldwide that rely on loaders to get work done.
Cy Keller, co-inventor of the world’s first compact loader, recently had the opportunity to see one of the latest Bobcat loaders: an R-Series T76 compact track loader. The 98-year-old visited Swanston Equipment in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, for a first-hand look at the next-generation loader.
“Man, that is a nice-looking loader,” Cy says. “I think it will do a good job.”
Bobcat began releasing its next-generation loaders – R-Series – in February 2020. Completely redesigned inside and out, R-Series loaders are the most powerful, durable loaders Bobcat has ever built. And, thanks to Cy, Bobcat has been building them in North Dakota since 1958.
Cy and his brother Louis developed the world’s first compact loader in the late 1950s, forever changing how agriculture, construction, landscaping, snow removal and grounds maintenance work gets done. The brothers helped launch the worldwide compact equipment industry.
“It really fascinates me,” Cy says. “When we first started out, they were only being used for turkeys and scooping out the manure. Now they go all over and are used for so many different things.”
Cy, who lives in Fergus Falls, occasionally visits Swanston Equipment locations for a first-hand look at recent machine releases. He also still keeps tabs on factory production.
“Years ago, I used to travel to every state, every Canadian province and Europe setting up dealerships,” Cy says. “Bobcat is doing a tremendous job. I still talk with the factory to see how orders are.”
Cy and Louis Keller Invent the First Compact Loader
In the 1950s, Cy and Louis Keller ran a blacksmith shop in Rothsay, Minnesota, where they repaired and rebuilt farm implements. In summer 1956, a turkey farmer named Eddie Velo visited the Keller brothers, saying he needed a more efficient, mechanized way to clean his turkey barns. It needed to be faster than men could do it with pitchforks and also maneuverable inside buildings. The Keller brothers began working on a solution.
“We didn’t have money back then to even put the parts in that first machine,” Cy says, reminiscing. “We were slow but sure; getting the first one built.”
By that winter, they had developed a three-wheeled machine powered by a set of pulleys and belts. It featured a rear caster wheel, two drive wheels, control levers and a 5-horsepower engine. The brothers mounted tough steel bars from an old jailhouse on a hydraulic loader arm so the loader could scoop out the turkey manure. The belt and pulley system proved to be too weak, however, so the brothers developed a clutch-drive transmission. That was in early 1957. The machine solved the farmer’s barn-cleaning problems, and Cy and Louis built six more loaders for other local farmers during the next year.
The Keller Brothers Join Up with Bobcat Founders, the Melroe Family
The brothers knew they had quite the machine, but they lacked the resource to mass produce it. Les Melroe ran a farm implement company with his brothers. He met with the Keller brothers and offered demonstration space for the loader in the Melroe booth at the 1958 Minnesota State Fair. It was an instant hit.
Fairgoers gathered to watch the machine scoop up dirt and load it into a pickup. On the second day, Les counted 100 people at a time trying to get one of the 1,000 pieces of literature they had printed. By the third day of the fair, Les had stuck a pair of Melroe decals on the machine, marking the beginning of a partnership with the Kellers.
Shortly after the fair, Louis and Cy moved to Gwinner, North Dakota, further developed their self-propelled loader design and put it into production. The result would make Melroe Manufacturing Company – later renamed Bobcat Company – the leader of the compact equipment industry.
“God blessed us with the idea, and God blessed us with getting it out there,” Cy says.
The Revolution Continues
Today, Bobcat Company is still creating the tools of tomorrow to help you do more – smarter and faster than ever before. While we’ve innovated and advanced Cy and Louis’ original loader design, the same spirit that helped them ignite the compact industry continues to push us ahead. The last 60 years laid the foundation. But we never stop improving. What’s next for compact loaders is happening right now at Bobcat, advancing with one goal in mind: delivering the performance, efficiency and power you need to drive your work forward.
Want more Bobcat history? Read up on the world’s first Bobcat four-wheel loader, the M400, which was released in 1960.