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Ole Evinrude and his outboard motor

Updated on July 26, 2016

His girlfriend wanted an ice cream

There is something rather pleasing when you hit the switch and your outboard motor roars, or occasionally coughs into life. Soon the waters are churning and you power forward. Spare a thought for the creation of one of the first outboard motors and it owes its existence to a lady’s need for an ice cream!

The story of its invention says that on a long hot summers day in 1906 29 year old Ole Evinrude was picnicking with a number of his friends. The island they had chosen to visit was on a Wisconsin lake that was two and a half miles from shore. To get there and back the men in the party had to row hard. As the temperatures rose that day Ole’s girlfriend Bess Carey, expressed a desire for some ice cream to take away some of the heat. Being an obliging young man Ole Evinrude took one of the boats and rowed a round trip of five miles to collect some ice cream to keep his sweetheart, well, sweet. Ole, meanwhile, had worked up quite a sweat and during the trip he thought how much easier it would have been simply to attach a small motor to the back of the rowing boat. His Eureka moment would see hundreds of thousands of outboard motors produced over the century that followed.

Ole Evinrude was born in Norway in 1877 before emigrating to the United States with his parents when he was just five years old. His father had bought some farmland and fully expected his son to become a farmer too, but Ole’s passion lay in mechanical engineering. At one point he tried building motor cars, although without commercial success.

His redesign of the flimsy and unreliable motors of the time, however, would prove to be profitable and rewarding for the young entrepreneur. In1909 he and his now wife, Bess established a business building outboard motors that had a grooved fly wheel around which a cord was wound. Thus, usually, starting even the most stubborn engine into life. He also attached a simple lever to regulate the motors speed and which served as the tiller to steer the boat.

Bess, the woman whose need for ice cream started the business wrote the first advert for the new outboard motors. “Don’t row. Use the Evinrude detachable rowboat motor.”

Bessie’s poor health meant that the Evinrude's sold up in 1913 with Ole agreeing to nurse his wife back to health. Despite his dedication to his spouse his inventive mind kept churning and during his self imposed five year hiatus he devised ever more enhanced machines including a two cylinder outboard engine. In 1921 together with his wife he formed the ELTO Outboard Motor Company (ELTO standing for Evinrude’s Light Twin Outboard). In 1929 a merger with the original Evinrude Company (renamed as Outboard Marine Corporation) and Lockwood Motor Company was successfully completed with Ole Evinrude installed as president.

In 1933 Bessie succumbed to her poor health at their home in Milwaukee. Sadly Ole Evinrude died the following her on 12 July. Their son Ralph stepped up and took over the family business. An approach from the Johnson Motor Company to merge with the company was accepted in 1936 and the new venture took the name Outboard Marine Corporation.

During World War Two the company produced thousands of motors for various types of military craft. Outboard Marine Corporation continued to trade successfully until the year 2000 when they filed for chapter 11. The company was duly taken over by Bombardier Recreational Products which continues to manufacture Evinrude outboard motors.

Not bad for a outboard motor devised by a man wanting to keep a promise to his girlfriend who wanted an ice cream on a hot summer’s day.

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