The Highest Honor for 2 Minnesota Inventors
What started after World War II as helping farmers keep their equipment running has led to two Minnesota Brothers being selected into the Inventors Hall of Fame. According to Agdaily.com, Louis and Cyril Keller were selected for the honor after their creation became the Bobcat Skid-Steer Loader.
The brothers learned to weld and do other useful work while working on the farm with their family. There were 14 kids, these brothers were #2 and #3 of the 14. Cyril and Louis had to miss days of school during the spring to help on the farm and they learned many different “trade” skills watching their father.
After returning from the war, Louis opened a machine shop and a blacksmithing shop in Rothsay, Mn. and after business grew so much, he asked brother Cyril to join him in the venture. Both could weld, and they began to help area farmers and others keep their equipment running.
During that time the brothers were having a conversation with a turkey farmer who was talking about the challenge of cleaning out 10 turkey barns and getting the new bedding down in 3 days. That’s when the brothers put their heads together and created the first version of the “Bobcat Loader”.
The original concept was drawn on paper, and a farmer agreed to buy the parts and the brothers provided the labor so if it didn’t work, they were both out something. The early versions of the Bobcat had three wheels and no steering wheel, just two levers to help direct the machine. A machine by the way that had to be light enough to drive on the 2nd level of the barn without crashing through the floor.
An uncle of the brothers worked for Melroe Products out of North Dakota, and had the brothers do a demonstration for Mr. Melroe. After featuring the Bobcat at the State Fair in St. Paul, the brothers came to terms with Melroe for the pair to get royalties and Melroe would manufacture the product. The company then hired the two to make sure the Bobcats were available to sell.
The poultry business began to struggle, and the brothers realized they needed to adapt the device to have 4 wheels to get into different markets. Cyril would go with the salesmen on calls and demonstrate the Bobcat, while Louis worked on development.
Another big transition point for Cyril and Louis was when the contractors realized they needed a smaller machine for the clean-up at the end of a job. An appealing feature was how the bobcat could spin in the front or the back depending upon where the weight distribution was on the device.
The Keller Brothers received the induction into the Equipment Manufactures Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame in 2004. The Keller Brothers induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame came along side 15 others but was posthumously, Cyril died in 2020 at age 98 and Louis passed away at 87 in 2010.
What started as a way to help farmers repair their equipment so they could keep working led to a product that is still widely used today, and it all started right here in Minnesota.