The Gradall Excavator and
Great Southern Equipment Connection

How the world's first excavator helped create
Florida's premiere equipment dealer

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 need for additional munitions during the height of the war led to a shortage of manpower available for construction activities. Two brothers saw this shortage as an opportunity to change the landscape of construction forever and joined together to design and engineer the first Gradall Excavator.

In November 1941, Ray and Koop Ferwerda sold off some of their construction equipment and rented a garage in Beachwood, Ohio. It was here that the modern day excavator was born. Together with two other contractors, the Ferwerda brothers designed their first prototype and began testing it in the spring of 1944. This new machine had an excavating bucket attached to a hydraulically powered telescopic boom and was able to quickly dig a trench and a sizable hole in the ground with minimal manpower.

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 are nominating Ray and Koop Ferwerda for induction this year.

As manufacturing of the machine went into high gear, the Ferwerda brothers moved to Florida to operate their construction and equipment supply business. It was during this time that Koop's son, Ray Ferwerda Sr., began showing an interest in the family business. In 1960, he founded Great Southern Equipment, a distributor for some of the first Gradall excavators.

Today, Great Southern Equipment continues to provide Gradall machines while offering additional equipment lines and service. 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. Ray Sr. is still involved in the operations, and his son Ray Jr. has taken the reins and is now president of the company.

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