In his first attempts to construct an internal combustion engine, Ole nearly set the basement of his boarding house on fire. The landlady, Mrs. Doyle, immediately kicked him out, fearing that he would blow the entire house up if he tried again. Ole might have said that fate led him to his new apartment, a small shed adjoining the property of sixteen year old Bess Cary. Bess was intrigued by the story of the boarding house explosion and her parent’s new tenant. Knowing that he had created the right pattern for a “horseless carriage motor”, Ole set out to find a partner with whom to form a company. His first partner, Clark, was a machinist like Ole. Neither man knew much about business or marketing and soon realized that their venture would not succeed. The next partner, Clemick, was an inventor. He had already begun to manufacture a custom engine on his own prior to joining Ole. The partnership of Clemick and Evinrude was an overnight success, landing a government contract to produce 50 portable motors. Bess Cary, who was attending business school, volunteered to type correspondence for the company in the evenings in exchange for the occasional ride in the “horseless carriage” and a Sunday picnic with Ole. In 1906, Ole and Bess became engaged. She was twenty-two and he was thirty.

It is rumored that the idea for the first Evinrude outboard motor came about on a hot Sunday afternoon when Ole took his fiancé, Bess, for a row on the lake. When they were 2 ½ miles from shore Bess said that she wanted a dish of ice cream. Ole turned the boat around and rowed back to shore. Parched and tired, he exclaimed to Bess that someone should invent a motor for boats. It would be nearly two years later before Ole Evinrude would take his own words to heart.

Ole and Bess were married on November 21, 1906. Their only son, Ralph Sydney Evinrude, was born almost a year later on September 27, 1907. The birth was very hard on Bess. Though she continued to work in her husband’s office, Bess’ health quickly declined. It was during this period of hardship that Ole built the first prototype for a rowboat motor. Bess commented upon seeing it for the first time that it looked like a coffee grinder. When Russ Cary, Bess’ brother, went with Ole to try out the “coffee grinder” on an actual rowboat, he enthusiastically reported back to his sister that the test was a success. Bess immediately saw the bigger picture and encouraged her husband to clean up the pattern and improve the model. The first 1 1/2 –horsepower Evinrude motor weighed 62 pounds and sold for $62. In the summer of 1909, Bess Evinrude wrote the now famous advertising slogan: Don’t Row! Throw The Oars Away! Use An Evinrude Motor and business skyrocketed. Within days of the ad running in Milwaukee newspapers, Ole and Bess were flooded with so many inquiries that they needed to hire six stenographers to handle the correspondence. In 1911, partnering with Chris Meyer, the President of Meyer Tug Boat Lines; the Evinrudes formed the Evinrude Detachable Row Boat Motor Company. The newly formed company sold 2,090 motors in 1911, representing an increase of more than a thousand units over the preceding year’s sales. In 1912, the company sold 4,650 motors and moved to a larger facility. The new factory employed 300 workers and produced 9,412 motors in 1913, making Evidrude a worldwide contender in the portable boat motor arena.

Sadly, in 1914, with Bess’ heath still in decline, Ole decided to sell his share of the company to his partner Chris Meyer. Ole signed an agreement not to participate in the outboard motor business for a term of five years from the date of sale. The sale brought the Evinrudes $137,500; enough to fund a family road trip across the US. While the family toured America, Chris Meyer saw sagging sales at Evinrude Motors. The company introduced a four-cycle twin cylinder engine in 1916 but the product was no more efficient than the single-cylinder version and it was soon discontinued. Though sales had fallen from previous years, Evinrude Motors still remained the industry leader in 1919 when Ole was freed from his non-compete clause. Upon his return from their five-year sabbatical, Ole’s first order of business was to design a 3 hp twin-cylinder aluminum engine, weighing in at only 48 pounds. This revolutionary new design was far ahead of anything the industry had seen to date. Feeling a sense of loyalty to his former partner, Ole took the new design to Chris Meyer. The meeting did not go as hoped and Ole left with the determination to start a new company. With their remaining savings of $35,000, Ole and Bess founded Elto Outboard Motor Company in 1920. Elto was an acronym for Evinrude Light Twin Outboard. Their first product hit the market in June of 1921. Elto sold 1,051 motors in its first year and 3,549 in its second.

back