February 12, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Ole Evinrude

On a typical sweltering Wisconsin summer day in 1908 Ole Evinrude was picnicking with some friends on an island two miles from shore. When his future wife Bess got a hankering for some ice cream Evinrude got in his boat and rowed back to town. But even a sturdy Norwegian couldn’t make it all the way back to the island before the ice cream melted. And so Ole Evinrude thought someone should invent a motor for a rowboat.

Others had already pursued the same dream. There were even such motors on the market in America as early as 1896 and Cameron Waterman, who coined the term “outboard motor,” had sold more than 12,000 such gasoline engines that very year. But Evinrude’s new motor would soon dominate the market, selling more than all other brands combined.

Ole Evinrude was born in Norway in 1877 but raised on a farm in south-central Wisconsin. When he was 16 he left the family farm to work in a machine shop in Madison. A born mechanic, Evinrude eventually worked in factories making electric motors and gasoline engines. While employed in Milwaukee he crafted his own horseless carriage and dreamed of manufacturing an automobile to be called the Eclipse. But Evinrude’s early business ventures were sabotaged by his thorny personality and problems with financial partners.

One business partner he teamed successfully with was his wife Bess.
After successful tests with his new outboard motor on the Kinnikinnic River Bess placed ads in the Milwaukee newspapers declaring, “Don’t Row! Throw the oars away! Use an Evinrude motor.” The original inventory of 15 was depleted in days. An Evinrude motor, generating 1.5 horsepower, weighed 62 pounds and sold for a dollar a pound. Bess Evinrude next placed the same notice in a national magazine and more than a thousand Evinrude motors were sold in 1910.

Like many manufacturers Waterman stressed the technical features of his motor; Bess Evinrude, now business and advertising manager, emphasized the convenience of the Evinrude motor. She also negotiated contracts with Scandinavian fishermen for several thousand outboards. By 1914, six years after Ole Evinrude rowed off that island, the Evinrude motor was internationally known. That year Bess fell ill and Ole once again began bickering with a partner in the Evinrude Motor Co. He sold his share of the business for $137,500 and the Evinrudes spent the next few years traveling around the United States.

Ole Evinrude did not abandon outboard motors, however. By agreement,
he promised not to compete with his old company for five years but when the covenant expired he was ready with a new motor, lighter and 50% more powerful than his best-selling original model. He went back into business in 1920 as the Elto (Evinrude Light Twin Outboard) Outboard Motor Co.

Evinrude continued to improve his motor throughout the 1920s until 1929 when Elto merged with his original Evinrude Motor Company and the Lockwood-Ash Motor Company. Evinrude was installed as president of the new conglomerate. But any sense of triumph was short-lived. Bess, Ole Evinrude’s motivation in business since the day he rowed across the lake with melting ice cream, once again became sick and died in 1933 at the age of 48. Evinrude returned to tinkering in the plant and died the next year at the age of 57.


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