During the height of World War II, construction workers were quickly leaving their jobs to assist with manufacturing military equipment for the US Government. The result was a shortage of manpower in the construction industry. Two brothers saw an opportunity to change the landscape of construction equipment forever and joined together to design and engineer the first Gradall excavator.
Inventing the Gradall Excavator
In November 1941, Ray and Koop Ferwerda sold some of their construction equipment and rented a garage in Beachwood, Ohio. Here, the Gradall excavator was born. Together with two other contractors, the Ferwerda brothers designed their first prototype in the spring of 1944. This new machine had an innovative hydraulically powered telescopic boom that could be raised and lowered and tilted left or right.
By the end of 1945, five Gradall machines had been built in the Beachwood garage. After demonstrating its capabilities at construction sites throughout Ohio, the brothers signed an agreement with a manufacturing company to put the excavator into full scale production. Gradall believes these accomplishments are worthy of the Manufacturing Hall of Fame, which is why they nominated Ray and Koop Ferwerda for induction.
Wooden Gradall XL-5100 presented by the Ferwerda family to Gradall Industries. Model hand created by Joe Weber.
Establishing Great Southern Equipment
As production of the Gradall excavator was developing, the Ferwerda brothers moved to Florida to operate their construction and equipment supply business. Koop's son, Ray Ferwerda Sr., showed an interest in the family business, and he founded Great Southern Equipment in 1960, one of the first distributors for Gradall excavators.
Today's Gradall excavators embody the same innovation and ingenuity of the Ferwerdas' first machine. Modern designs include both tracked and wheeled models that are distinguished by their ability to travel quickly to jobsites on highways, and their ability to complete a wide range of jobs with a large variety of attachments.
Ray Sr. is still involved in the operations, and his son, Ray Jr., is now president of the company. Great Southern Equipment still offers Gradall excavators, along with a complete range of heavy equipment to complete any construction job. The company has grown from a single location to six branches that serve all of Florida, while remaining true to its roots by providing personal service and attention to its customers.