Innovation Spotlight: Alternative Power

The word “innovation” is used so often today, it’s easy to take for granted. But for The Toro Company, it’s more than a buzzword; it’s a core founding principle that has been part of who we are for more than 100 years. We’ll be taking a closer look at some of those groundbreaking innovations in a series of articles throughout 2017.

For us, relentless innovation has always been about looking for new and better solutions to our customers’ problems. One example is our exploration of alternative power. Toro unveiled its first all-electric powered putting green mower in 1928 — decades before the market was concerned about the environment or fossil fuels.

The Industry’s First All-Electric Greens Mower
Patented by Toro’s co-founder and first president, John Samuel Clapper, this all-electric greens mower was ahead of its time. Clapper’s patent also covered a design for tractor-mounted electric-powered cutting reels for mowing fairways.

Not only were the cutting units on the mower rotated and propelled by electric power, but the patent also lists features such as:

  • Closely spaced rows of cutting units “so as to permit moving around curves without leaving uncut strips and without damage to the turf”
  • The ability to add a grass catcher to each cutting unit without increasing the spacing between units
  • Readily detachable cutting units in versatile configurations — the standard design included three cutting units, but the mower could also be configured with one cutting unit or five
  • A simplified means for lifting the cutters of the individual units from the ground “in order to facilitate turning and movement of the gang without the operation of the cutters”

Clapper demonstrated the new mower design at traveling manufacturer shows that moved from city to city, generating plenty of golf industry buzz. In fact, the Detroit News praised it as “one of the most advanced ideas in mowers.” Unfortunately, the hand-controlled model was corded, and it required a portable generator to be used on areas of the golf course where electrical outlets weren’t readily available – a relatively cumbersome design. In addition, there wasn’t much demand for clean energy at the time. As a result, the electric greens mower did not turn out to be a commercial success.

A History of Invention
The first electric greens mower is just one early example of Clapper’s many ideas. For instance, Clapper came up with a way to adapt early farm tractor engines to burn kerosene instead of gasoline because kerosene was less expensive. He also developed what many consider to be the first fairway or sports field irrigation system.

Clapper was a lifelong inventor, holding 16 patents (as well as several inventions that were not patented), despite having no formal engineering training. He was always looking forward, and that carried over to the way he ran the business as well – establishing Toro’s relationship with the golf industry and setting the stage for decades of innovation to come.

Toro’s Recent Alternative Energy Solutions
Toro’s spirit of innovation has continued as a cornerstone throughout the company’s history. Seven of Toro’s nine CEOs (only one of whom holds an engineering degree) are patent holders, a fact that speaks to our culture of innovation. It’s a tradition that carries on today with our most recent alternative-energy solutions.

These products include the Toro® Workman® e2050, our first electric professional-duty product. The e2050 paved the way for our current Workman GTX grounds and turf crossover vehicle, which is available in a 48V electric model. The Workman GTX offers over 300 unique configurations to adapt it for any task, along with exclusive suspension and braking systems for a smooth and comfortable ride.

Toro also introduced the industry’s first lithium ion battery-powered walk greens mower, the Toro Greensmaster® eFlex®. The eFlex is highly efficient and extremely quiet, has no carbon emissions, requires less maintenance, and it can mow up to nine greens on a single charge. It also has patented Flex suspension that follows contours, as well as Dual Precision Adjustment (DPA) cutting units that maintain levelness and hold adjustments.

The Greensmaster TriFlex® Hybrid was the first riding greens mower to cut with the precision of a walker. TriFlex Hybrid models feature a reliable all-electric reel circuit that was custom-designed with ample power for the most demanding applications, on and off the green. They also combine a unique Double A-Arm Suspension System with industry-leading Flex technology, allowing the cutting units to float freely over any terrain for a superior quality of cut.

Another game-changer was the Reelmaster® 5010-H — the industry’s first fairway mower with a true hybrid drive system. PowerMatch technology enables the 5010-H to seamlessly match the power generated to the power required for traction and cutting based on the mowing conditions. Plus, the move from hydraulic to electric cutting units eliminates hoses, fittings and fluid, along with over 100 potential leak points.

These are just a few of the products that have come from our ongoing commitment to innovations with alternative energy. To learn more about our continuing work with alternative energy solutions, please visit