For many in construction, skid steers are synonymous with Bobcat. It’s easy to see why. The company holds a large portion of the market and claims the name of the world’s first four wheel skid steer loader. However, despite always being light and agile machines, in its early days, the skid steer was a far cry from the machines used on site today.
The Grandfather of Skid Steers
The grandfather of the modern day machine was the front end loader. This three wheeled machine was invented in Minnesota in 1957 by the Keller brothers: Cyril and Louis. The machine was originally designed to aid the clearing of poultry manure from a local farmer’s barn. The Keller loader, as it has come to be known, featured two front wheels and a single castor wheel at the rear of the machine. As a result of this design, the machine proved useful for use in tight spaces such as barns as it could turn around within its own length.
Following the purchase of the rights to the Keller Loader in 1958, Melroe Manufacturing Company hired the Keller brothers to improve upon their invention. The front wheel loader appeared again at the end of 1958 as the M200 Melroe self propelled loader. This iteration of the machine retained the three wheel design of the original loader. In addition, the compact machine featured a 12.9hp engine and 350kg lift capacity. However, it was the M400 loader that introduced the world to the four wheeled skid steer.
Released in 1960, the M400 was still unlike the machines we use on site today. Plagued with problems, the Melroe Brothers considered turning away from the project. However, customers were demanding parts to repair the some 200 machines that had been produced. As a result, the M444 was released in 1962 with improved design to replace the M400.
Bobcat and Beyond
There’s some argument as to whether the name Bobcat was suggested for the M400 or the M444. However, the name fit the machine. It was suggested in honour of the American wild cat due to the ‘tough, quick, and agile nature of the machine. From the 1960s onwards, the name Bobcat has become synonymous with the skid steer loader.
Of course, it’s not only Bobcat, the company that grew out of Melroe Manufacturing Company, that have contributed to the machines history. In 1969 Case Construction bought rights to produce the multipurpose skid steer loaders. This is just one example of many. In 1993, JCB produced the Robot Skid Steer Loader. This machine instantly became the ‘world’s safest’ thanks to its patented single arm loader and unique side entry cab.
In addition, the skid steer has inspired other machinery inventions. The Compact Track Loader, introduced by Takeuchi in 1986, bears remarkable resemblance to the machine. The invention was actually intended to overcome some limitations of the skid steer. Lee Padget, production manager for Takeuchi commented: “Tracks allow for a much more stable platform with better flotation and traction”. These machines have also become commonplace across the construction industry.
Over the years, skid steers have invaluable to the industry. Many refer to them as ‘the swiss army knife’ of construction machinery. Skid steers remain firmly planted in the construction machinery arsenal. In 63 years, the skid steer has grown from a turkey farmer’s tool to the powerful compact machine used on sites globally.