These are the forgotten inventors of the backhoe, new book claims

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Updated Jul 14, 2018
Wain-Roy’s first backhoe in 1948. Photo credit: digrock.com/Leading Edge Attachments, Inc.Wain-Roy’s first backhoe in 1948. Photo credit: digrock.com/Leading Edge Attachments, Inc.

Though many associate the first backhoes with Case Construction Equipment and JCB, a new book gives the credit to two men in Hubbardston, Massachusetts, with developing the world’s first backhoe.

The authors of “Wain-Roy and the Invention of the Backhoe” attribute the revolutionary construction equipment’s creation to Vaino (pronounced Waino) J. Holopainen and Roy E. Handy Jr. Their 1947 invention “could dig and load by swinging side to side” and was “the world’s first all hydraulically actuated and controlled machine for digging,” according to a news release from authors Lee Horton and Dave Willens. Horton and Willens say they are two engineers from central Massachusetts who “wanted to capture this fascinating history before it was lost to time.”

“The amazing story of Wain-Roy and the invention of the backhoe is one of inspiration, struggle, genius, success, theft and failure,” the release says. “Credit for the backhoe is often given to other larger outfits who no doubt fueled the rise of its widespread use. Few people alive still remember the greatest triumphs and failures of the true inventors and innovators of first backhoe and the first all-hydraulic digger.”

The book says the first hydraulic backhoe was sold in 1948 by the Wain-Roy Corporation, formed by the two inventors. It consisted of a hydraulic swing-frame digger mounted to a Ford Model 8N tractor. It was sold to the Connecticut Light and Power Company for $705, the authors say.

operator sitting on an early backhoe

“The swing frame breakthrough allowed the hydraulic digging arm to swing to the side to dump the bucket,” the authors say, referring to a patent filed by the inventors in 1948. “This patent also included the invention of the outrigger bar and high flow control.”

Wain-Roy continued to improve on the invention, filing multiple patents in the ensuing years, including for a backhoe shovel version, a reversible seat and individually controlled outriggers. In 1954, however, it failed to defend its swing-frame patent, and other companies began to produce backhoes, the authors say.

JCB’s website gives credit for the world’s first backhoe to company founder Joseph Bamford, who on a business trip in 1953 in Norway saw a lightweight excavator on a trailer hitched to the back of a tractor. He subsequently attached a prototype excavator with hydraulic arms to the back of a front loader, the site says.

Case’s website says that in 1957 it introduced the Model 320, “the industry’s first factory-integrated tractor loader/backhoe.”

But to the authors of “Wain-Roy and the Invention of the Backhoe,” the credit goes to the now-defunct Wain-Roy Corporation.

“Their grassroots contribution to the earth moving industry led to the development of 26 major backhoe related break-through designs,” the authors say, “including the tractor loader backhoe, which formed the worldwide multi-billion-dollar industry that we know today.”

Their 194-page hardback book contains dozens of pages of color and black and white images. To order the book, call 508-829-4855 or email sales@leattach.com. Cost: $34, plus $8.70 for priority shipping and handling.