Blog Innovation on Display

See a Prototype That Launched an Industry at the NIHF Museum

Innovation on Display Behind the NIHF Scenes

Where can you see an invention that’s made a legendary impact? At the National Inventors Hall of Fame® Museum – where we’ve unveiled a brand-new exhibit featuring a 65-year-old prototype.

Read on to learn how our latest exhibit, “A Legacy of Innovation,” honors 2023 Inductees Cyril Keller and Louis Keller, and celebrates their invention of the first compact loader, which later spurred the creation of the Bobcat® skid-steer loader.


An Inspiring History on Display

To help put history on display, Joe Keller, the son of Inductee Louis Keller and nephew of Inductee Cyril Keller, traveled nearly 1,400 miles from North Dakota to deliver a 1958 prototype compact loader to the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum, located within the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia. The journey included a stop at the National Inventors Hall of Fame headquarters in North Canton, Ohio, and many Bobcat dealerships along the way.

Now proudly displayed at the center of our new exhibit, this prototype was created in response to a request from a farmer. At Keller Welding in Rothsay, Minnesota, the Keller brothers were approached by a local farmer, Eddie Velo. He needed a machine to clear his turkey barn of manure but be light enough to operate on the second floor and agile enough to navigate barn poles. The Kellers designed and built a solution in just six weeks. Using mechanical parts from local junkyards and bars from the old Rothsay jail, they created the first small, lightweight, three-wheel front-end loader.

The Keller brothers understood that one of the disadvantages of early motorized loaders was that with all wheels turning in the same direction, operating them in small spaces was nearly impossible because they required a wide area for turning around. With their patented clutch system, the Kellers made it possible to put one side of the loader into forward and the other side into reverse, without the use of a transmission gearshift or a steering wheel. It could turn completely around in a circle the size of its own length, with one front wheel moving forward and the other moving in reverse, pivoting around the caster wheel.

The impressive, full-size prototype you can see in our new exhibit is one of the first seven compact loaders the Keller brothers built in the late 1950s, helping to launch the compact equipment industry and evolving into the famous Bobcat loaders we know today.


From Midwest Invention to Global Leader

Along with the loader prototype, “A Legacy of Innovation” features a timeline of the loader’s and Bobcat Company’s history, as well as a video that highlights Bobcat’s products, people and initiatives.

The exhibit’s timeline includes a rich history of intellectual property associated with the Kellers’ skid-steer loader. For instance, you’ll learn how Melroe Manufacturing, the company that was awarded exclusive manufacturing rights to the Kellers’ original loader on a royalty basis in 1958, chose the Bobcat name to evoke the animal’s tough, quick and agile attributes. In addition, you’ll see the evolution of the Melroe and Bobcat trademarked logos.

The timeline also celebrates many milestones and innovations that have led to compact loaders becoming ubiquitous at construction sites, farms, railyards and seaports throughout the world. As of 2014, more than 1 million Bobcat loaders have been built and sold worldwide, and this number continues to grow as Bobcat unveils more-advanced products. In 2022, for instance, the company introduced the world’s first all-electric compact track loader, the Bobcat® T7X, which is covered by one of the largest patent filings in the company’s history.

To make sure you get a chance to see “A Legacy in Innovation,” plan your visit to the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum today. You’ll not only see an important piece of compact equipment history, but you also can tour many more interactive, kid-friendly exhibits designed to spark the innovative spirit in everyone. For all visitors, admission is free – and inspiration is unlimited.


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To learn more about the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum and our many world-changing Inductees, visit our blog.

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