Edwin “Ed” Malzahn, who invented the first compact trenching machine and built his family company into global manufacturer Charles Machine Works on the success of his “Ditch Witch,” died Dec. 11. He was 94.
Malzahn is best known for inventing the world’s first service-line trencher, originally known as the Ditch Witch Power, in 1949. The innovation of mechanizing the demanding task of digging trenches for buried utilities revolutionized the underground-compact-equipment market. Today, Ditch Witch, a Charles Machine Works company, has produced and sold more than half of the world’s trenching machines, according to the manufacturer.
“Ed was the inspirational leader of the Ditch Witch and the Charles Machine Works family for over 65 years,” said Rick Johnson, CEO of Charles Machine Works in a statement. “He possessed a sharp mind, strong rural work ethic and generous spirit—all of which he used to better those around him.”
Malzahn was featured in ENR's “125 Years … 125 Top People” list in 1999 on the occasion of the publication’s 125th anniversary (ENR 8/30/99). As ENR wrote at the time, “from its roots as a small facility founded by his father, Charlie’s Machine Shop has grown into the worldwide Charles Machine Works because of Malzahn’s invention of the first compact trenching machine. Replacing the labor-intensive pick-and-shovel, the Ditch Witch revolutionized digging of service-line trenches.”
Other accolades for Malzahn include his induction into the Oklahoma Inventors Hall of Fame, American Rental Association Hall of Fame, Construction Equipment Hall of Fame and North American Society for Trenchless Technology Hall of Fame. He also was named Inventor of the Year by the Oklahoma Bar Association: Patent, Trademark and Copyright Section.
A guestbook website with remembrances of Malzahn can be found at www.edmalzahn.com.