Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame


Daniel F. Przybylski - 1999 Inductee

(pronounced "Shi-bil-ski) (1917 - 1978) Self-educated, Daniel Przybylski invented trenching equipment that revolutionized the way ditches were dug in the 1940s. He never graduated from high school. He had an eighth-grade education, which for the time was common, but he had a quick mind. His further formal education was limited to night classes at the Dunwoody Industrial Institute and correspondence courses in welding. The lack of a diploma didn’t mean a lack of imagination, or a lack of business sense. Przybylski had the rare ability for inventing and marketing his ideas. He mastered an art most inventors never learn, that of making their inventions pay off.

He was granted 44 United States patents in his lifetime. He also has a number of patents from other countries, including Canada, Italy, and Australia. These patents grew out of his design and development of two machines. One, a trencher, revolutionized ditch digging in the late 1940s and was designed to meet the needs of the farmer who did not have time lay drainage tile by hand or could not afford other excavating machines that were in the marketplace. The other machine and most successful of his inventions, was the internationally famous HOPTO digger, backhoe and crane, which stands for Hydraulically Operated Power Take Off. It was the leading hydraulically operated digger in the world, and was referred to as the "Cadillac of excavating machines." While his original invention was essentially a one-job machine, the versatile HOPTO backhoe could do everything from digging graves, to scooping half a cubic yard of dirt from a trench 17 feet deep, to large industrial projects.

During the Great Depression, Przybylski worked at a number of jobs. His liking for machines and a job with Archer Daniels Midland Co. brought him into contact with trained engineers. By the 1940s, he had learned enough about engineering to design flax plants at Winona and Windom, Minnesota. During World War II he helped in the design and construction of 42 flax processing plants and earned the distinction of having designed more flax processing plants and machinery than anyone else in the world.

In 1982, he was inducted into the Minnesota Polish Hall of Fame. At his induction it was said Przybylski was a firm believer that men shouldn’t have to dig ditches by hand, and he did something about it.

One day in 1944, while watching a work crew laboriously digging a ditch with picks and shoves in waterlogged soil near Windom, Minnesota, Przybylski had an idea. His idea was to create a ladder type trencher that would be highly portable and low in cost to dig ditches in the sticky farm soil. There were a few other ditch digging machines on the market, but they were either too expensive or not versatile enough to be used by the average farmer or contractor. After several months of experimentation and modification, the first Badger Trencher was unveiled. The trencher weighed only 3,000 pounds and could dig a ditch six feet deep and 16 inches wide at the rate of between 250 and 300 feet per hour. Modifications and additions to the original experimental model, such as a sight, power leveling device, and trench crumber (which cleans the bottom of the trench), have eliminated 95 percent of all hand labor. One hour’s operation by the machine is the equivalent of 30 man hours of labor. The machine was so far superior to its nearest competitor that within a few years sales of the his trenchers had outstripped those of companies that had existed for more than half a century.

Przybylski became known as an "inventor of jobs" because of the rapid growth of the company. In 1945, Przybylski founded Badger Machine Company to manufacture and sell his digging equipment. He chose the name because the badger is the fastest digger. He started the company in a small garage with just one helper. It was located in Winona, Minnesota, close to the farm where he was born. The construction industry - principally plumbers and basement diggers - became Badger’s biggest customers. Twelve years later, 147 people were employed in the company. It was at one time Winona’s largest employer.

In the early 1950s a licensed factory was opened in Milan, Italy, and another in Melbourne, Australia. Before he sold the company to Warner & Swasey Company in 1957, he secured a pledge from the Cleveland firm’s owners that Badger be kept in Winona and that no employee would lose their job. Przybylski was asked to remain with the company as manager and remained in that position until 1967. Retirement sparked a new beginning for him, as he created another revolutionary machine - the Sky Draulic Zoom Boom. It was the first zoom boom to use only one hydraulic cylinder to extend all sections of the boom crane. He began producing the Sky Draulic in his new business, Dynamic Fluid of Winona.

Przybylski also used his gift for invention to serve his community. When the 1965 flood threatened the city of Winona, he designed a sand bag filling machine that helped save the town.

NOTE: These biographies have been compiled from information accompanying the nomination form submitted to the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame, information available on the Internet and from a variety of other sources.