William Smith Otis

William Smith Otis invented the steam shovel in 1835 when he was just 22 years old. As no records exist for any powered construction machine operating before this date, the Otis shovel is recognized as the grandfather of all construction machines. That year the machine was put to work in the construction of the Boston and Providence railroad in Massachusetts.

Otis recognized the need for moving earth mechanically. His design utilized all the basic principles of the modern cable shovel, with the exception of 360 degree rotation. Only the advent of the hydraulic excavator changed the basic concept of this class of machine. He received a patent for another shovel design in 1839, but died from typhus fever later that year, at the early age of 26. The brilliant invention of William Otis was fully recognized by surviving relatives and members of his contracting business who held on to the patent for almost 40 years. Born in an era of manual labor and mules, the Otis shovel was phenomenal in that it preceded all other earthmoving and construction machines by decades.