A Quick History Of The Cable Excavator

Most machinery exists today as a result of mankind’s desire to minimize labor and boost productivity. An important group of machines that has freed mankind from drudgery and bone- wearying toil are the excavators. Excavators encompass a large group of earth moving machines ranging from the colossal draglines used in strip mining to the miniature hydraulic backhoes employed in construction and landscaping. The most common excavators in much of the 19th and early 20th centuries were cable operated machines. However, with the exception of mining draglines, in today’s world these essential machines of yesterday have virtually disappeared. The cable excavator has been replaced by several machines, most notably the hydraulic excavator. The development of cable excavators was the cumulative efforts of many enterprises over several decades. Some of these firms flourished, becoming international brands, while others faded away or were bought out by the competition. Some of the noteworthy dates and events in the evolution and life of the cable excavation are featured below.

  • 18th century development of the steam engine provided a mobile and untiring power source for machines.
  • Steam power is applied to an earth moving device in England as early as 1835 – the Otis Steam Shovel.
  • Most early shovels were mounted on rails, capable of only 180 degree swing and were mainly used in railroad construction.
  • 1880 Bucyrus Foundry and Manufacturing Company was formed in Bucyrus, Ohio and in 1882 builds their first steam shovel – (this machine was incapable of rotating)
  • 1884 first fully rotating-shovel built by English company Whittaker and Sons.
  • 1904 Bucyrus Company and Marion Power Shovel Company supply steam shovel for building Panama Canal. Bucyrus supplies 77 shovels, Marion supplies 24 shovels.
  • 1920’s Companies develop wheeled, tracked; fully rotating cable shovels with diesel and gas power options.
  • 1925 Bucyrus Company builds the first dual purpose mine and quarry shovel – 120-B
  • 1825 Bucyrus merges with Erie Company the largest US manufacturer of mobile smaller excavators to form the Bucyrus-Erie Company.
  • 1940 Bucyrus-Erie goes international by joining with large British excavating equipment manufacturer Ruston & Hornsby Ltd. to form the Ruston-Bucyrus
  • Several companies such as Marion, Bucyrus Erie, American, Link Belt thrive and become hallmark cable excavator brands in first half of the 20th century.
  • 1950 -1980 hydraulic excavators replace cable excavators except in some large mining and dredging applications.
  • 1997 Bucyrus-Erie changes name to Bucyrus International and acquire Marion Power Shovel Company.
  • 2000 Bucyrus International Inc. builds the Bucyrus 2570WS dragline – presently world’s largest working dragline excavator.
  • 2011 World leader in mining equipment Caterpillar Inc. purchases Bucyrus International Inc.


Photo Information:

The Tom Creek Steam Shovel  This historic steam powered cable excavator now rests on the shores of Stuart Lake in Fort St. James within the scenic Stuart Nechako Region of British Columbia.
“The Tom Creek Shovel has been preserved as a tribute to the pioneer families who contributed to the growth and development of the region during the first half of the twentieth century.” 
To learn more about the shovel and this scenic and historic region of British Columbia visit: wwww.fortstjames.ca

Thank you Kevin for allowing us to use the photo.