Bobcat Co. Donates Historical Records to Smithsonian

Wed July 22, 2009 - National Edition
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(L-R) Leroy Anderson, Bobcat marketing manager; Craig Orr, associate curator, National Museum of American History; and Alison Oswald, archivist, National Museum of American History, catalogue the documents donated by Bobcat.
(L-R) Leroy Anderson, Bobcat marketing manager; Craig Orr, associate curator, National Museum of American History; and Alison Oswald, archivist, National Museum of American History, catalogue the documents donated by Bobcat.



The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History now houses Bobcat Co. records chronicling the evolution of a maker of nimble loaders, which replaced pitchforks in turkey barns, into a global construction industry giant.

Bobcat, which is known for its skid steer loaders, announced the donation of thousands of pounds of company records to the museum on June 5. The company, which also makes other light construction equipment, is based in West Fargo, N.D.

Leroy Anderson, a marketing manager and Bobcat historian, said he contacted the museum about three years ago, asking if it was interested in archiving company records. He said the donation was approved last spring.

Two pallets with 56 cubic feet of paperwork, photographs, films, company magazines, advertising brochures and other documents were sent to the museum last fall, Anderson said. The documents can be accessed immediately, he said.

“This is an honor,” Anderson said. “It really helps chronicle our success story.”

A special exhibit of Bobcat records will run from Nov. 30 to Jan. 17, the museum said.

Bobcat, which has plants in Bismarck and Gwinner, was founded in 1947.

The original skid steer loader was built by Louis and Cyril Keller in Rothsay, Minn., to clean turkey barns. Melroe Manufacturing Co. in the southeastern North Dakota community of Gwinner purchased the rights to the Keller loader in 1958 and hired the Kellers.

Ingersoll Rand Co. Ltd. bought Bobcat in 1995, from Clark Equipment Co. South Korea’s Doosan Infracore Co. purchased Bobcat in 2007 from Bermuda-based Ingersoll Rand in a deal worth $4.9 billion. Doosan said the deal was the largest overseas acquisition in Korean history.

Bobcat’s trademarked name often is used generically to describe all skid steer loaders.

“Over the years, many companies have looked at us a national treasure and a brand that is known throughout the world,” Anderson said. “This collection is a story of how that brand was built.”

Museum director Brent Glass said in a statement that “Bobcat Co. of North Dakota represents the ingenuity and innovation of American business.” His statement said the records “contribute to the better understanding of American entrepreneurship.”

Anderson, a self-proclaimed pack rat and Bobcat’s volunteer historian, said he has been caching company records for more than three decades. He said Smithsonian archivists who visited company headquarters were impressed with the depth and breadth of the collection.

Anderson said he feared old Bobcat records may have been damaged or destroyed over time while warehoused in North Dakota.

“I was afraid somebody was going to say, ’What do we need all this junk for’ and throw it away,” Anderson said. “I am confident our story will be preserved for decades to come.”

The Bobcat Co. records focus primarily on production, marketing and advertising. They span a period from the 1940s to the present and illustrate the progression of a once-small, family-owned company that emerged as an industry leader. The donation includes photographs, product literature, advertisements, employee newsletters, drawings, scrapbooks and audiovisual materials. The collection also contains notes on a 1985 trip to Japan where employees learned about Japanese manufacturing and engineering techniques, some of which were implemented in Bobcat factories. These papers are available for research and complement the Archives Center’s agricultural holdings, which include the Everett Bickley Collection, the William C. Kost Farm Records and the Southern Agricultural Oral History Project.

Museum spokeswoman Valeska Hilbig said the archives will be part of the Smithsonian’s collection of agriculture, business and industrial papers.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. After a two-year renovation and a dramatic transformation, the museum shines new light on American history, both in Washington and online.

For more information, call 202/633-1000 or visit http://americanhistory.si.edu.

Portions of this article were provided by the Associated Press.