AEM HOF Loses Two Members

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AEM has noted that two of its Hall of Fame members passed away in the last year: Cyril Keller, co-inventor of the skid steer loader, and Helmut Claas, former chairman of the German agriculture machinery company Claas.

Cyril Keller, a member of the 1999 induction class to what was then known as the Construction Equipment Hall of Fame, passed away October 28, 2020, in his hometown of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, at age of 98. Keller was inducted, along with his younger brother Louis (1923-2010), for his development of the first skid steer loader.

The Keller brothers, originally trained as blacksmiths, operated their own machine shop in Rothsay, Minnesota. A farmer friend of theirs said he needed a machine capable of cleaning out stalls in his turkey barns that was light enough to operate on the barn’s upper levels. Their first design of a three-wheel loader eventually developed into a four-wheel loader, and by 1960, after selling the manufacturing rights to Melroe Manufacturing, the first loader would go on sale under the name “Bobcat.”

Helmut Claas, a member of the 2013 induction class of the AEM Hall of Fame, passed away January 5, 2021, at the age of 94. Claas was inducted for his leadership and engineering skills, co-designing Claas’s Dominator (1971) series combine harvesters, Jaguar (1973) series forage harvesters, and Xerion (1978) tractors; the latter two product lines remaining on sale today.

Claas was born in 1926 in Harsewinkel, a town in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia 60 miles northeast of the Rhine-Ruhr metro region, and where his namesake company remains headquartered today. However, he never left the farm life, maintaining a farm in the U.K. village of Troston, in Suffolk County, just 90 miles east of London.

The son of company founder August Claas, Helmut started work as a machine fitter apprentice in the 1930s, going on to learn metalworking and metal casting, and then studying agriculture in Paris. Claas reached the company headquarters in 1958, at age 32, becoming managing director in 1962. Claas has also been recognized as a Knight of the French Legion of Honor for his efforts toward Franco-German cooperation, the Diesel Medal from the German Institute of Inventors, the Medal of Merit from the German state of Baden-Württemberg, and the Order of Merit from the French Minister of Agriculture.

His daughter, Cathrina Claas-Mühlhäuser, manages decision making and development at Claas today.

The AEM Hall of Fame is currently seeking nominations to its 2021 induction class to join the 65 members already inducted. An independent panel will select who will be recognized at AEM’s Annual Conference, scheduled for November 10-12 in Phoenix.

Nominations are open until June 11, 2021 through the AEM website.