Economic Development News

Rolla, N.D.
June 17, 1954

Managed by the Bulova Watch Company, the jewel ball bearing plant here produces about two million finished bearings each year. Opened in 1953, the plant employs 165 people, most of whom are women from the Turtle Mountain Reservation. A factory in New York manufactures synthetic rubies and sapphires which are sent to the Rolla plant for shaping into desired sizes. The jewels are so small that a teaspoon holds 25,000; an estimate places the value of a cupful at $6 million.

Jewel bearings are used in many sophisticated military instruments. Because of an essential supply, the government plays a key role in establishing jewel bearing plants. The Bulova Watch Company has a contract with the government to produce two million a year.

Gwinner, N.D.
September 30, 1959

The old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” surely applies to Edward Gideon “E.G” Melroe. Fascinated by farm gadgets, when young Melroe finished the eighth grade, he took courses in steam and gas engines at the North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo. Born in 1892 to Norwegian immigrant parents who farmed not far from Gwinner, Melroe’s “playmates” were the machines on the farm.

In 1927 he and his brother, Sig, were disappointed with their new combine. Too much grain was left on the ground, especially in uneven places. Melroe developed a combine attachment that would pick up windrows of grain without losing many kernels.

Because his invention worked so well, his neighbor soon clamored for him to make some for him. So, in 1947 the 55-year-old farmer/inventor opened Melroe Manufacturing Company in Gwinner. The Melroe Pickup was soon joined by spring-tooth Harroweeder—both staples of the new company.

But E. G., who died in 1955, did not live long enough to see the machine that would catapult his company into the international market. In 1957 turkey farmer Eddie Velo went to blacksmith brothers Cy and Louis Keller of Rothsay, Minnesota, to see if they could put together a machine that could pick up manure from the corners of his turkey barns. Velo needed a machine that could turn a complete circle in its own length. The Kellers went to work and tested their invention. It worked. The brothers built several which they sold as the Keller Loader.

The brothers’ uncle happened to be a Melroe equipment dealer in nearby Elbow Lake. The uncle persuaded Lester Melroe, who with his brother and brother-in-law now ran the company, to take a look at the Kellers’ loader. He liked what he saw and Melroe Manufacturing Company bought the rights to the invention and hired the Keller brothers for their Gwinner plant. With improvements the new machine was named the Melroe Self-propelled Loader. Today it is known world-wide as the Bobcat.


Williston, N.D.
June 24, 1961

In 1955 a geologist with the Great Northern Railway discovered rich salt deposits near here. Impressed by the purity of the salt beds, the General Carbon and Chemical Company of Illinois organized a subsidiary, Dakota Salt and Chemical Company, to produce the salt for industrial, agricultural, and table uses.

The city of Williston built the plant, and the company leases it. Currently, 50,000 tons of salt are produced each year.

Display promoting North Dakota’s natural resources, including salt. From the Williston Daily Herald, courtesy of State Historical Society of North Dakota.


Dickinson, N.D.
May 17, 1965

In 1959 the Husky Oil Company purchased the Dickinson plant of the Dakota Briqueting Company, which had produced industrial briquettes from lignite coal for many years. In 1962 Husky began marketing briquettes for outdoor grilling and distributed its product as Grill Time. The company has manufactured a lignite barbecue briquette with properties equal to or superior to the charcoal briquettes which have dominated the market.

Due to plant improvements, the company can process six tons per hour. A company official told The North Star Dakotan that these briquets are now available in 36 states and in Canada.


Bismarck, N.D.
December 31, 1966

Ever since the Amerada Petroleum Company struck oil near Tioga on April 4, 1951, with Clarence Iverson #1, the yearly production from the more than 2,000 wells has increased. This year it topped 27 million barrels, ranking North Dakota tenth among oil-producing states.

The search for North Dakota oil goes back to 1916 when the Pioneer Oil and Gas Company drilled near Williston but came up with only water. In 1937 a California company gave up at 10,000 feet. Amerada had hit 11 dry holes, but struck oil at 12,000 feet. North Dakota’s oil lies deep within the Williston Basin. This makes drilling very expensive. The petroleum industry has invested an estimated $650 million in North Dakota oil exploration.

Standard Oil of Indiana has constructed an oil refinery near Mandan, a 157-mile crude-oil pipeline from Tioga to Mandan, and a 207-mile products pipeline from Mandan to Moorhead, Minnesota. The Mandan operation and two smaller refineries in Dickinson, Queen City, and Williston, Westland Oil, produced 17.5 million barrels this year.

Natural gas is an important offshoot of the oil business. In 1954 the Signal Oil and Gas Plant at Tioga began processing natural gas at a rate of 50 million cubic feet each day.

The oil and natural gas industries help to diversify the North Dakota economy and enrich the state’s treasury through special taxes.

Clarence Iverson Test Well #1 began the oil boom in North Dakota. Courtesy of State Historical Society of North Dakota (0284-179).

Standard Oil refinery built along the Missouri River in Mandan. Courtesy of State Historical Society of North Dakota (C0532).


Grand Forks, N.D.
October 11, 1967

Take a potato, do something special to it, and you have a value-added farm product. The northern Red River Valley, noted for potato growing, has become a hotbed of potato processing. In Grand Forks the Rogers Brothers Company turns potatoes into flour. In Grafton the Borden Company manufactures instant whipped potatoes. Red Dot, soon to become part of Frito-Lay, Inc., operates a Grand Forks potato chip factory.

By far the largest single utilizer of potatoes is Western Potato Service, Inc., of Grand Forks. With 500 employees the company produces 750,000 pounds of frozen french fries, hash browns, and cottage fries on a daily basis. It ships 1,200 carloads annually throughout the United States.

Processing potatoes into hash browns and french fries is big business in the Red River Valley. Courtesy of Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, UND.


Bismarck, N.D.
December 30, 1970

W. W. Murray, the head of the North Dakota State Industrial Council, has told The North Star Dakotan that union membership has shown a “healthy growth” and compared to the war years is “as different as night from day.” During the war most workers headed to the West Coast for good-paying defense jobs. Now they are returning.

Due to federal projects such as the Garrison Dam, missile sites, and airbases, there is plenty of work for skilled and unskilled workers.

In spite of North Dakota’s “right-to-work” law, which makes illegal any contract that denies the right of a person to work on account of non-membership in a union, the council’s members hit 7,000 this year.


New Town, N.D.
October 15, 1972

The Three Tribes has just completed its Four Bear Lodge which accommodates 96 rooms. In 1970 Northrop Manufacturing opened its electronics plant on the east edge of this city. It has been awarded contracts by the Department of Defense and NASA. About a third of the work force are tribal members. The Tribes’ housing authority, which was established in 1968, has constructed many houses and low-rent units.

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Grade Level


Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change