Ev­in­rude Didn’t In­vent the Out­board

Power & Motor Yacht - - BOATYARD -

Ole Ev­in­rude is the man most as­so­ci­ated with the ear­li­est out­board mo­tors. But Ev­in­rude didn’t in­vent the out­board—he just made it fa­mous. Be­fore the turn of the 20th cen­tury, both elec­tric- and gaso­line-pow­ered out­boards had been built in small num­bers. Gus­tave Trouvé, a French elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer, built an elec­tric out­board in 1881, car­ry­ing out “sea tri­als” on the Seine; ap­par­ently, he built only one mo­tor be­fore mov­ing on to other in­ven­tions, in­clud­ing the bat­tery-pow­ered head­lamp and an elec­tric horn, which he also mounted on a boat. Amer­i­can Mo­tors Com­pany sold a hand­ful of gas out­board mo­tors in the late 1890s, and in 1905, Cameron Water­man filed a patent ap­pli­ca­tion for a Boat-Pro­pelling De­vice, mar­keted as the Porto-Mo­tor.

But it was Ev­in­rude who clamped out­boards onto the tran­soms of thou­sands, and by now mil­lions, of boats. He built his first one in 1907, a 3-horse, one-cylin­der model that was patented in 1911. By 1912, Ev­in­rude had 300 work­ers build­ing out­boards, in­clud­ing Arthur David­son, who, with his friend Wil­liam S. Har­ley, also built mo­tor­cy­cles. You might have heard of them. (Wisconsin lore says that Ole Ev­in­rude helped Har­ley and David­son de­velop the 405 cc en­gine that pow­ered the first Har­ley-David­son.) In 1919, Ev­in­rude built a lighter, more ef­fi­cient twocylin­der mo­tor, made partly of alu­minum, the Ev­in­rude Light Twin Out­board. By then, one of his com­peti­tors was the John­son Broth­ers Mo­tor Com­pany. In 1935, af­ter a se­ries of merg­ers and ac­qui­si­tions, Out­board Marine Cor­po­ra­tion owned both Ev­in­rude and John­son, along with Briggs & Strat­ton. (Stephen Briggs started OMC in 1929 as the Out­board Mo­tor Com­pany.) When I was a kid, the only out­boards worth con­sid­er­a­tion in the Smith house­hold were Ev­in­rude and John­son.

But how about Mer­cury out­boards? When Ev­in­rude built his first out­board, Carl Kiekhae­fer was about 1 year old. In 1927, Kiekhae­fer worked for Ev­in­rude as a drafts­man for a short time; he got fired and kicked around for a while, earn­ing some of the more than 200 patents he held dur­ing his life. Then, in 1939, he bought a strug­gling out­board-mo­tor builder in Cedar­burg, Wisconsin. There were 300 de­fec­tive mo­tors in stock; Kiekhae­fer got them work­ing, sold them to Mont­gomery Ward and Mer­cury Marine was born. The fol­low­ing year Mer­cury took or­ders for 16,000 mo­tors at the New York Boat Show. The com­pany has been a lead­ing in­no­va­tor in marine propul­sion ever since—it built the first V-6 out­board, the 60-horse­power Mark 75, in 1957, and the first 100-horse­power out­board in 1962 (it was painted Phan­tom Black). I thought it was about the coolest thing I’d ever seen—100 horse­power! But I couldn’t con­vince Dad; he had Ev­in­rude in his blood, so I had to ad­mire that big Merc from afar.

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