Evolution of the Backhoe

The modern backhoe-loader traces its lineage to a hydraulic digging attachment developed in the late 1940s

The Wain-Roy hydraulic backhoe attachment was the first recorded hydraulic backhoe in the U.S.
The Wain-Roy hydraulic backhoe attachment was the first recorded hydraulic backhoe in the U.S.
Brian Handy

The modern backhoe-loader traces its lineage to a hydraulic digging attachment developed in the late 1940s. Lee Horton and Dave Willens, co-authors of Wain-Roy and the Invention of the Backhoe (www.originalbackhoe.com), conducted extensive research into the history of this machine and the associated patents.

According to Horton, Vaino J. Holopainen and Roy E. Handy Jr. invented the first backhoe swing frame in early 1947 while experimenting with a hydraulic digging apparatus they had built for the rear of a tractor. Holopainen subsequently filed patent No. 2,698,697. The swing frame allowed the hydraulic digging arm to swing to either side of the machine to dump the bucket load. “Roy came up with the swing frame idea and Vaino came up with the first rear-mounted hydraulic digger apparatus,” notes Horton. The patent also included the invention of a stabilizer bar to distribute the digging forces, which later evolved into individual outriggers also developed by Wain-Roy.Wain-Roy hydraulic backhoe attachment.Wain-Roy hydraulic backhoe attachment.Carroll H. Arnold

The company founded by Holopainen and Handy in April of 1948, the Wain-Roy Corporation of Hubbardston, MA, began selling the first all-hydraulic backhoes in October of 1948. The backhoes were first mounted to the then-popular Ford N-Series and Ferguson tractors. The company sold 24 units that first year. Approximately 7,000 Wain-Roy backhoes were manufactured and sold between the fall of 1948 and early 1954, mainly though Ford tractor and implement dealers by partnership with Sherman Products of Royal Oak, MI. “In later years, in order to get more distribution, Wain-Roy made a deal with Ford,” says Horton. But Ford eventually ended up building the backhoes themselves, nearly putting Wain-Roy out of business.

During the early years, Wain-Roy continued to develop important backhoe technology including the actuated bucket, independent stabilizers, various high-capacity boom swing systems and the first reversible seat patent, filed by Vaino under patent No. 2,784,768. The company’s first tractor-loader-backhoe (TLB) was a Wain-Roy backhoe mounted to a Frank G. Hough model “HE” wheel loader in 1952. This TLB was for the Holden Massachusetts Water Department. Two Hough model wheel loaders, the “HE” and “HF”, were available with integrated Wain-Roy backhoes.

Some basic concepts that still survive today were developed during this same time period. “One of the primary ideas of the excavator and backhoe is the four-bar linkage at the bottom,” says Horton. That was invented by John Pilch, who started Ware Machine Works in Ware, MA. Pilch developed the first four-bar linkage to achieve greater bucket digging and dumping rotation, and filed for patent #2,678,741 in September 1950. The four-bar linkages were also used on the Wain-Roy backhoes after 1954.

JCB 3C MKJCB 3C MKJCBWhile Wain-Roy was making advancements in North America, JCB was paving the way for the future of the backhoe-loader in Europe. In 1948, JCB launched the first European hydraulic loader. The Major Loader was a front loader designed to bolt onto a Fordson Major tractor. This was followed in 1953 with a backhoe having a 180˚ swing fitted to a tractor.

Today, JCB has more than a 50% share of the global backhoe-loader market. “Throughout history, JCB has been a leader and innovator in backhoe-loader advancement, and launched some of the most significant technologies that have today become common features,” states Diego Butzke, backhoe-loader product manager, JCB North America. Such technologies include:

  • in 1959, it developed dual levers to operate the backhoe end;
  • in 1961, it offered a side-shift backhoe;
  • servo joystick controls were launched in 1984;
  • an articulated boom was produced in 1990, three-wheel steer (front wheel, all wheel, crab steer) in 1991 and powershift transmission in 1992;
  • the world’s smallest backhoe-loader (1CX) premiered in 1994; and more.

Early Case 300 'integrated' backhoe loader.Early Case 300 'integrated' backhoe loader.Case Construction EquipmentMeanwhile, Case Construction Equipment was instrumental to North American backhoe-loader development. In 1957, Case produced the first “integrated” TLB in the U.S., with all components manufactured and warrantied by the same manufacturer.

“All of the backhoes until Case came along were pretty much attachments that were added to loaders or farm tractors,” Horton points out.

“Case manufactured the very first fully integrated backhoe-loader, warrantied from the factory/OEM, and has been responsible for many of the first and most important advances that have served as the core of the backhoe market for decades,” states Ed Brenton, product marketing manager, Case Construction Equipment.

In 1964, Elton B. Long of the J.I. Case Corporation filed patent No. 3,249,244 for the first extendible boom. “The Extendahoe was developed to allow contractors to dig, reach and place items deeper/farther than they could before,” says Brenton. But the company didn’t stop there. “The over-center backhoe design was another Case first, and it provides a number of advantages to operation and transport, including better balance, a smoother ride and a lower transport height.”

In January 1965, the introduction of the hydraulic thumb had a dramatic effect on productivity. In that year, Patent No. 3,273,729 was filed by Vaino Holopainen, and the thumb soon became a popular option. “The thumb was on about 50% of the machines,” says Horton. 

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