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Bobcat Donates Historical Records to Smithsonian

Fri June 12, 2009 - Southeast Edition
James Macpherson - ASSOCIATED PRESS

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) 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.

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.”

Smithsonian archivists were provided with everything from movies of prototype machinery to the first union grievance filed against the company, he said.

“If they wanted it, we were willing to part with it because it’s part of the whole story,” Anderson said.

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

Historic Bobcat machinery is on display at the Bonanzaville museum in West Fargo, about a mile from the company’s headquarters, Anderson said. The original loader built by the Keller brothers more than 60 years ago is on display at a museum in Fergus Falls, Minn., he said.

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