Ole Evinrude was born on a farm in Christiana, Norway on April 19, 1877, one of elevenchildren born to Andrew and Beatta Evinrude. At the age of five, Ole moved with his family toAmerica, settling in Cambridge, Wisconsin. It was on the journey to the US that Ole fell in lovewith boats and the motors that powered them. He spent much of the oceanic voyage in the engineroom of the ship, fascinated by all that he saw.
In America, life was much the same as it had been in Norway. Oles father, having lostthree uncles to the sea, persuaded Ole to put aside his longing for a maritime life and concentrateon farming and landscaping. After dropping out of school in the third grade, Ole workedalongside his father on the family farm and in a tobacco warehouse as a sorter. Soon Ole becamea household name among the neighboring farms for his ability to repair broken tools that wouldusually have required a trip to the blacksmiths shop.
With money saved from his job at the warehouse, Ole bought a subscription to amechanical-science magazine and began to build a sailboat out of lumber from his fatherswoodshed. His father was furious at the time and money he felt Ole had wasted on the effort andbroke the boat to pieces for firewood. Devastated but not defeated, Ole began again to buildanother sailboat. This time he hid the pieces throughout the farm until a few months after hissixteenth birthday when his father went out of town. During his fathers absence, which lastedonly a few days, Ole assembled his handcrafted18-foot sailboat and docked it in the lake. Whenhis father returned home and asked about the boat, Ole confessed that he had made it. Unlikewhat he was expecting, Oles father was impressed by his sons efforts and gave his blessing forOle to pursue his dreams.
That same summer Ole began to use his boat to ferry sightseers around Lake Ripley,charging 25 cents per person. He saved enough money to move to Madison, where he became anapprentice machinist in the Fuller and Johnson farm machinery shop. While working, Olebecame interested in an idea that he had read about in his mechanical-science magazine. The ideawas to power a boat, and possibly a carriage, with a new type of gasoline engine. This ideastayed with Ole as he moved from job to job. In 1900, he landed at the E.P. Allis Company inMilwaukee, where he was employed as a pattern maker; a profession that would serve him wellin the years to come.
The Johnson Brothers
The outboard motor industry saw more than just the rise of Elto in the early 1920s. Otherplayers had also entered the marketplace. The newly formed Johnson Motors Company burstonto the scene with a twin-cylinder motor, quickly taking leadership away from EvinrudeMotors. Much like Evinrude Motors though, Johnson Motors Company begun as a family ownedand operated business. In 1908, with just the bare basics for parts, the brothers Johnson craftedtheir first marine engine in a barn in Terre Haute, IN.
Lou Johnson was the oldest of seven children born to Soren and Bertha Johnson. Lou wasdescribed as a natural leader and an innovator. Like Ole Evinrude, Lou Johnson conceived of theidea for a motor one hot day in 1903 when he had to row his 18-foot boat, the Arrow, ten milesupstream to harvest walnuts. Lous first engine was a single-cylinder, two-cycle, 3-hp monster,weighing in at 150 pounds. By 1905, the Johnson brothers, Lou, Harry and Clarence, hadperfected their creation to a single-cylinder, 3-hp engine weighing only 65 pounds. With aninterest in speed, the brothers expanded to both two and four-cylinder inline models and testedthem in the Black Demon, a 26-foot displacement boat. The Black Demon raced down theWabash River at speeds of up to 18 mph.
While marine engines were the main focus of the Johnson brothers, they also developedan aircraft motor. The lightweight V-4, two-cycle motor produced 60-hp. Since the Johnsons hadno aircraft on which to test the motor, they decided to build one. In 1910, seven years after theflight of Orville and Wilbur Wright, the Johnson brothers built the first American monoplane toactually take flight. The plane weighed 750 pounds, had a 36-foot wingspan and measured 34feet from propeller to tail. The monoplane quickly gave the brothers celebrity status, drawinginvitations to attend county fairs and carnivals throughout the state. Visitors paid 25 cents to takea look at the machine. In addition, Lou piloted the plane in contests; once winning $1000.
The Johnson Brothers 2
The Johnson brothers continued to handcraft airplane and seaplane motors while buildingand selling marine motors and racing motorboats. Business was good, with the brothers sellingproducts just as fast as they could make them. Then on Easter Sunday of 1913 tragedy struck inthe form of a tornado that ripped the Johnson factory from its foundation, destroying everythingwithin. Because the family had no insurance, rebuilding was out of the question. Instead thebrothers conceived of a new invention a motor to propel a bicycle. With this new idea, theJohnson Motor Wheel Company was founded. Because the motor wheel was very hard onmagnetos, burning them out as quickly as they could be replaced, the Johnsons began to discusspossible solutions with Warren Ripple, owner of the Quick-Action Ignition Company in SouthBend, IN. Ripple took a special interest in the manufacture of the motors and helped facilitate amove of the Johnson Motor Wheel Company to South Bend in March 1918. The motor wheelwas very successful, selling more than 17,000 units during the years it was manufactured.However, the Johnson Motor Wheel Company went out of business in 1921 with the onset of therecession.
Coming off of this recent disappointment, the Johnson brothers began to look again at themarine industry. The first prototype outboard motor was tested in the spring of 1921 in alightweight boat built by Warren Conover. The test was successful and the Johnson MotorCompany was incorporated one month later in South Bend, IN. Warren Ripple was named as thecompanys first president. The first Johnson outboard motor was produced on December 19,1921. The 2-hp twin engine was made largely of aluminum alloys, weighed only 35 pounds andfeatured a full-pivot reverse.
In 1922, Johnson introduced the Light Twin and the Waterbug. Both designs wonrecognition in the National Motor Boat Show that year and the company received orders for3,429 units. Each unit sold for $140. The following year, orders reached 7,000 units. As JohnsonMotor Company began to win acclaim and market share, other companies such as Evinrudebegan to feel the pressure. In 1922 Chris Meyer sold Evinrude Motors to a group of investors ledby Walter Zinn. Zinn introduced the 4-hp Big Twin in 1924. However, sales still did not rise forEvinrude Motors and the company was again sold to another group of investors led by AugustPetrie.
Impact of the Depression
Poised to take on Johnson, the newly formed Outboard Motors Corporation was hit hardby unfortunate, yet unforeseen, circumstances. The stock market crashed on October 28, 1929,sending the US economy into the Great Depression. Sales dropped dramatically in the earlyyears of the depression, causing the management team at OMC to drop the Lockwood line ofproducts. To meet payroll, the company held factory sales of overstocks and motors assembledfrom leftover parts on the weekends.
In the months preceding the crash, Johnson Motors had authorized a stock issue ofapproximately $1.3 million and used nearly half of its operating capital to fund a hugeadvertising campaign. The stock issue was underwritten by the New York firm of Hayden,Stone, and Co. When the stock market crashed, Johnson looked at the disaster with optimism andquickly launched a line of boats designed to go with the Sea Horse motors. The JohnsonMatched Units boat and motor program was also known as the Aquaflyer and Sealite.Unfortunately, these boats were too far ahead of their time to survive the economic crisis of theGreat Depression. It would be nearly 60 years later before the Matched Units were againintroduced to the market.
The depression impacted Johnson as much as it did OMC. Profits fell from $445,613 in1929 to $141,086 in 1930 and debts increased. In an effort to protect its investment, Hayden,Stone, and Co. took over the management of Johnson Motor Company in 1931 and appointedDavid Stratton as president. In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression and with conditionslargely unimproved, the company was placed in voluntary receivership by its current president,H.G. Delabar. Reorganization was also initiated and the company attempted to diversify intodurable goods such as refrigerators and compressors. However, this attempt did not work and in1935, Johnson Motor Company was sold.
As OMC was emerging from the depression, Bess Evinrudes health deteriorated. Shedied on May 13, 1933. Just a little more than a year later, on June 12, 1934, Ole Evinrude passedaway as well. It is believed that he never recovered from the loneliness of his wifes death. Amonth after his fathers passing; Ralph Evinrude was appointed President of OMC.
News of Johnsons financial troubles spread quickly among the community and StephenBriggs began to make efforts to bring Johnson into the OMC family. It is reported that Briggswent to see Charles Hayden, the head of the investment firm that owned Johnson, and asked topurchase the struggling company. Hayden declined another offer from Stewart-Warner andaccepted Briggs offer to purchase Johnson at $10.35 per share. Briggs purchased 80,000 of the102,000 outstanding shares for approximately $800,000. The money for the acquisition camedirectly from the personal funds of Briggs and Ralph Evinrude. By November 1935, Briggs andEvinrude became the owners of the strongest line of outboard motors in the industry, as well as afactory and equipment valued at $1.5 million. In its first year of operation under newmanagement, Johnson sold 20,872 motors, making back their entire purchase price. OnSeptember 30, 1936, OMC formally brought Johnson into the companys fold.
The Evinrude 25
Nearly 16 years after initiating the policy of consolidated competition, OMC producedthe first standardized common-line product. The Evinrude 25 and the Johnson 25 wereessentially the same motor, just styled differently for each division. Even their parts wereinterchangeable. To further integrate the two divisions, OMC pared both the Johnson andEvinrude lines down to four models each. Diversification came just a year later when OMCCanada converted an out-dated washing machine motor into a lawn mower motor and branchedinto the rotary lawn mower business. The new mower was called the Lawn-Boy. In 1952, OMCacquired RPM Manufacturing Co. of Lamar, MO, a manufacturer of rotary lawn mowers thathad recently gone into receivership. The Lawn-Boy proved to be very successful and later ledOMC to look at other small-engine related products.
Around this same time, the Korean War began. President Harry S. Truman declared astate of emergency in the US and called for a large scale production effort from majormanufacturers. The National Production Authority (NPA), formerly called the War ProductionBoard, decided once again that aluminum could not be used in the production of recreationalitems. The proposed ban on production would divert 90% of aluminum to defense purposes,leaving on 10% to be used to build outboard motors. Joseph G. Rayniak, who had been namedgeneral manager of OMC in 1949, went to Washington to fight the ban. In his pamphlet,Outboards at Work, Rayniak showed the NPA that outboard motors were being useddomestically for important commercial purposes such as logging, fishing, water taxi services,disaster relief and conservation. Rayniak painted a picture for the NPA that seemed to imply thatJohnson and Evinrude motors were the only ones being used for such purposes. Much to theirsurprise, the NPA cancelled the ban on production for OMC and even offered to assist thecompany in securing more aluminum. With this remarkable turn of events, OMC had only tosupply 10% of its production capacity to the war effort.
The one millionth Johnson motor rolled off the assembly line in November 1952,marking the first time in history that an outboard motor company had reached this goal. Amidstexpansion of their facilities, OMC continued to produce revolutionary new products. The 5 hpJohnson Sea Horse featured a carburetor intake silencer and an exhaust relief silencer, making itthe quietest motor available. Sales of the quiet Sea Horse skyrocketed, setting the highest singleyear sales records for any one product in the history of the company. The Sea Horse also featureda gear shift, an up-and-off motor hood, and a spring release shock absorber drive.
By 1955, the Johnson and Evinrude lines were identical to one another in the 3-hp and25-hp models and the Evinrude 7 hp and 15-hp motors were the same as the Johnson 5-hp and10-hp lower end units. Johnson added suspension drive to their 10-hp and 25-hp motors. Galeadded a 22-hp and a 25-hp twin to its 1955 line up. Both models were available with eithermanual or electric starting.
Johnson celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1972 and thus began major changes in top management. W. Clay Conover retired as manager of the Johnson division. He had worked for OMC for forty years. He was succeeded by Carl Reusch. Another of Johnsons factory managers, Harold Bourdon, also retired after 48 years of service. Elmo Dosing took his position as the Gale Products manager. Charles D. Strang was elected president and general manager of OMC and former president, William Scott, was elected vice-chairman of the board. In 1976, Stephen Foster Briggs, one of the company's founding fathers, passed away. He was 90 years old. A year later, William Scott, died in Milwaukee.
As the 1970s were drawing to a close, Johnson employment had reached 4,172. Business was good but two new challenges appeared on the horizon a pending nationwide energy policy restricting the use of gasoline for recreational purposes and the entry of the Japanese into the marine industry. OMC decided to focus its attentions on the Japanese and launch a price war. In1978, OMC cut prices in Europe, its largest international marketplace, by 25% to compete withJapanese brands like Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki, and Suzuki. The Japanese then cut their pricesby an additional 5% and OMC followed suit, upping the ante with an expensive advertising andmarketing campaign. The Japanese did nothing and soon prices stabilized throughout theindustry. However, profits fell from $12 million in 1977 to only $5 million in 1978.In 1978, OMC announced the most strategic reorganization in company history. The sixdivisions that comprised OMC were eliminated and operations were merged under a singlefactory concept. The reorganization was modeled after the Japanese auto industry and OMCmanagement felt it was the best way to maintain a competitive advantage in the expandingmarketplace. Leadership was placed in the hands of James C. Chapman. Chapman was amechanical engineer with a masters degree in business who had worked for such companies asChrysler and Rockwell. After 42 years of internal competition, OMC employees were faced witha shift in mindset.
Fuel shortages threatened the industry in the early 1980s and economical was the newbuzzword. Evinrude and Johnson both introduced 4 hp and 7 hp Worktwins. These smallwork horses were designed for non-stop operation in even the harshest waters. Although theeconomy remained weak, consumers rallied; driving sales of all OMC products up 39%. Thissurge in interest in marine products led to the introduction of the Sea Drive Power System, an outboard motor designed to replace inboards in larger boats. OMC had been working on the SeaDrive for two years before its launch in 1981.
The Japanese finally entered the US market in 1983 when Yamaha began to sell outboards similar in styling and price to OMCs models. OMC sued the Japanese company forpatent infringement and Yamaha soon found themselves redesigning their engines. Despite thenew competition, OMC continued to thrive. Four new ultra-modern manufacturing plants were opened in 1984 in Oxford, MS, Spruce Pines and Burnsville, NC, and Calhoun, GA. A year later similar facilities opened in Lexington, TN and Andrews, NC. These new factories were equipped with robots and lasers to make production more efficient. The unprecedented modernization costOMC nearly $100 million.
To substantiate its modernization efforts, OMC launched an impressive production schedule that called for the release of six new outboard motors. The OMC Cobra stern-drive and a series of new loop-charged V-4s and V-6s were launched from 1985 to 1986, along with theworlds first V-8 outboard. The Cobra was considered durable, serviceable, and corrosion resistant. Top of the line Cobras featured a 260-hp, 5.7 liter Chevrolet V-8 engine. The Cobra was also designed with the same bolt and wiring patterns as the Mercury MerCruiser, a motor commonly used by boat builders. This gave builders more choice in the type of motor they could use in their assembly. In addition to their powerhouse motors, OMC later introduced a line of basic outboards called the SPL series. These 28-, 48-, and 88-hp models were aimed at the entry level or bargain boater. In 1986, OMC had a total of 94 models in its outboard line.
The success of the Cobra stern drive exceeded everyones expectations at OMC. Unitsales in 1986 were up 30% while dollar sales had increased by 50%. The quality of the Cobraexpanded OMCs horizons, with companies like Sea Ray and Bayliner soon wanting the Cobradrive in their watercrafts. Charles Strang was able to negotiate a 3 year, $55 million-per-yearcontract to supply drives to Bayliner and a one year contract to co-brand the Cobra for use at SeaRay. Discussions with Bayliner and Sea Ray led OMC to think about acquiring a boatbuilder.
When an agreement could not be reached with these companies, OMC looked elsewhere;acquiring five boatbuilders between December 12, 1986 and February 13, 1987. The total cost ofthese acquisitions was $120 million. However, annual sales from the combined businesses hadbeen nearly $200 million in 1986 and had been steadily growing at a rate of 40% since 1982.This move to vertical integration helped OMC set a new earnings record of $1.2 billion in 1986and placed the company in a strong leadership position going into the next decade. By 1988,OMC had 14,000 employees in 28 US and 6 international plants.
An Evinrude Motor
In his first attempts to construct an internal combustion engine, Ole nearly set thebasement 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 ledhim 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 parents new tenant.Knowing that he had created the right pattern for a horseless carriage motor, Ole set outto find a partner with whom to form a company. His first partner, Clark, was a machinist likeOle. Neither man knew much about business or marketing and soon realized that their venturewould not succeed. The next partner, Clemick, was an inventor. He had already begun tomanufacture a custom engine on his own prior to joining Ole. The partnership of Clemick andEvinrude was an overnight success, landing a government contract to produce 50 portablemotors. Bess Cary, who was attending business school, volunteered to type correspondence forthe company in the evenings in exchange for the occasional ride in the horseless carriage and aSunday picnic with Ole. In 1906, Ole and Bess became engaged. She was twenty-two and he wasthirty.
It is rumored that the idea for the first Evinrude outboard motor came about on a hotSunday afternoon when Ole took his fianc, Bess, for a row on the lake. When they were 2 miles from shore Bess said that she wanted a dish of ice cream. Ole turned the boat around androwed back to shore. Parched and tired, he exclaimed to Bess that someone should invent amotor for boats. It would be nearly two years later before Ole Evinrude would take his ownwords to heart.
An Evinrude Motor 2
Ole and Bess were married on November 21, 1906. Their only son, Ralph SydneyEvinrude, was born almost a year later on September 27, 1907. The birth was very hard on Bess.Though she continued to work in her husbands office, Bess health quickly declined. It wasduring this period of hardship that Ole built the first prototype for a rowboat motor. Besscommented 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, heenthusiastically reported back to his sister that the test was a success. Bess immediately saw thebigger picture and encouraged her husband to clean up the pattern and improve the model. Thefirst 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: DontRow! Throw The Oars Away! Use An Evinrude Motor and business skyrocketed. Within days ofthe ad running in Milwaukee newspapers, Ole and Bess were flooded with so many inquiries thatthey needed to hire six stenographers to handle the correspondence. In 1911, partnering withChris Meyer, the President of Meyer Tug Boat Lines; the Evinrudes formed the EvinrudeDetachable 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 years sales. In 1912,the company sold 4,650 motors and moved to a larger facility. The new factory employed 300workers and produced 9,412 motors in 1913, making Evidrude a worldwide contender in theportable boat motor arena.
Sadly, in 1914, with Bess heath still in decline, Ole decided to sell his share of thecompany to his partner Chris Meyer. Ole signed an agreement not to participate in the outboardmotor 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 twincylinder engine in 1916 but the product was no more efficient than the single-cylinder versionand it was soon discontinued. Though sales had fallen from previous years, Evinrude Motors stillremained the industry leader in 1919 when Ole was freed from his non-compete clause.Upon his return from their five-year sabbatical, Oles first order of business was to designa 3 hp twin-cylinder aluminum engine, weighing in at only 48 pounds. This revolutionary newdesign was far ahead of anything the industry had seen to date. Feeling a sense of loyalty to hisformer partner, Ole took the new design to Chris Meyer. The meeting did not go as hoped andOle 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 forEvinrude Light Twin Outboard. Their first product hit the market in June of 1921. Elto sold1,051 motors in its first year and 3,549 in its second.
The Outboard Motors Corporation
In the meantime, sales of Elto motors continued to climb. In 1925, Ole Evinrude sold7,600 Elto motors, coming in second only to Johnson. The following year Elto introduced theSuper Elto Twin and launched a $125,000 ad campaign aimed toward the outboard racingmarket. In an attempt to compete with the industry giant, Johnson, Ole and his son Ralph beganto work on a new engine. The Super Elto Quad was introduced in 1928 as Americas first fourcylinder,two-cycle outboard motor. With 18-hp and speeds of up to 35 mph, the Super EltoQuad was an immediate success with racing enthusiasts. That same year, Elto launched the 7-hpSpeedster twin, selling a record 10,111 units.
Back at Johnson Motors, speed was the buzzword in the mid-1920s. A 6-hp Big Twinwent into production in 1926, weighing in at 80 pounds and selling for $210. The Big Twin hadalready broken the current speed record of 11 mph on July 4, 1925 in an appearance at WhiteLake, MI. The Big Twin boasted a record 23.32 mph in its initial run and by production wassetting speeds up to 32.14 mph.
To keep up with current production demands, the Johnsons moved to a larger facility inWaukegan, IL near Waukegan Harbor and Lake Michigan in 1927. The 138,000-square-footfactory cost nearly $1 million. Three new products were then added to the lineup a larger 8-hpBig Twin, a 4-hp Standard Twin, and the 25 -hp Giant Twin. In 1928, Johnson established anexport division and opened the Canadian Johnson Motor Company, Ltd. in Ontario. This newfacility was responsible for the manufacture and distribution of 50% of the outboard motors soldin Canada.
The Sea Horse was introduced by Johnson on January 12, 1929 to rave reviews at theNational Motor Boat Show in NYC. The Sea Horse was an innovative and trend-setting productthat would influence the design of outboard motors for decades to come. The Sea Horse, whichcame in both a two and four-cylinder model, featured a compression release charger for easierstarting, a rotary valve to increase the gas charge, and an underwater exhaust. In keeping withtheir desire to achieve speed, the Sea Horse set 26 of 39 world records for outboard motoring in1929 and 1930.
The year 1929 brought Ole Evinrude full circle, with a partnership acquisition of hisformer company, Evinrude Motors. Unable to forge ahead in a very competitive market, AugustPetrie had sold Evinrude Motors in June 1928 to Briggs & Stratton. Stephen Foster Briggswatched sales steadily decline even as his company poured $400,000 into plant and productimprovements for the Evinrude line. In an effort to reclaim leadership in the outboard industry,Briggs decided to offer Ole Evinrude the chance to merge Elto with the company he hadoriginally founded. Ole jumped at the opportunity.
A third and smaller company, Lockwood Motors, was also part of the merger betweenEvinrude Motors and Elto. On February 23, 1929, the Outboard Motors Corporation (laterrenamed the Outboard Marine Corporation) was formed. Ole Evinrude was appointed president.Stephen Foster Briggs became chairman of the board. The former president of LockwoodMotors, Arthur Lockwood, took the duties of treasurer for OMC. Ralph Evinrude managed theexport business.
Despite the struggling economy, the 1930s saw many new innovations in outboardmotors. The 5 -hp Lightwin Imperial and the 9.2-hp Lightfour Imperial were hooded with aprotective aluminum covering over the powerhead to protect the engine from elements. Theseengines were also the first to have the powerhead encased in rubber. In 1935, OMC launched theSportsman, a revolutionary 25 pound 1 -hp motor that sold for only $55. This was also the firstoutboard motor to utilize reed valves.
The acquisition of Johnson gave OMC a total of three manufacturing plants Milwaukee,Waukegan, and Peterborough and 11.5 acres for future expansion. The plants employed 855Americans and 85 Canadians. Within the plants there existed a policy of consolidatedcompetition which allowed the brands of Evinrude-Elto and Johnson to compete with eachother for market share, as if there was no parent company involved. This internal rivalry workedwell with one exception engineering. Chief Engineer Irgens of Evinrude and Chief EngineerRayniak of Johnson would meet with each other weekly to discuss their work but for the mostpart each man tried only to find innovations for their particular line of products. This led to aslowdown in production for both lines and brought thoughts of standardization to the minds ofOMC management. However, this solution was not immediately implemented due to the onset ofWorld War II.
The war made manufacturers once again think of diversifying their product lines andOMC began to actively investigate the refrigeration business that they had inherited with theacquisition of Johnson. In 1937, twenty-five Johnson employees moved to Galesburg, IL toassemble refrigerators. Within a year, the facility was also producing air-conditioning units. Anew 70,000 square foot factory was built in 1939 and the entire Waukegan-based componentproduction moved to Galesburg to form a new operation called Gale Products.
Gale manufactured its own line of refrigeration products as well as private label productsfor Johnson, Speed Queen, Mayflower, and Briggs. While sales were good, profits were small.This led Gale to begin producing private label Sea King outboard motors for Montgomery Ward.This revenue stream took Gale out of the red and management made the decision to sell therefrigerator business to Stewart-Warner and manufacture another private label outboard, Wizard,for Western Auto Stores.
Low pricing was the buzzword in the late 1930s with smaller and cheaper outboardsbeing introduced by each division at OMC. The 1.1-hp Scout, later renamed the Ranger, wasintroduced in 1938 by Evinrude. The -hp Mate came along less than a year later with a pricepoint of $34.50. Elto countered in 1938 with the 1.1-hp Pal, selling for $37.50, and the Elto Cubin 1939. The Elto Cub weighed only 8 pounds and sold for a remarkably low $29.50. Johnsoncontributed the Midget Single in 1938, the smallest and lightest Sea Horse model evermanufactured.
As early as 1939, two years before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, OMC begansubcontracting with the US government to produce aircraft parts. This put OMC in a goodposition when the US government issued Limitation Order 80 (L-80) on March 27, 1942. L-80prohibited the use of aluminum to manufacture leisure products. Under this order, the WarProduction Board placed the Evinrude factory on reserve to manufacture outboard motors ifneeded. When orders did not immediately come in, the War Production Board agreed to allowEvinrude to build airplane superchargers for Bendix and direction finders for the Army SignalCorps. However, soon after converting the lines over to produce these specialized parts, OMCbegan received orders from Washington to manufacture outboard motors for the Army and Navy.This was a tough time for OMC but its ability to meet the governments demands helped pavethe way for an easy transition back to peacetime manufacturing at the end of the war.
New Innovations 2
OMC ultimately produced 50,000 Bendix starters, 700,000 Autosyn fuel pressureindicators, 25,000 Magnesyn compass transmitters and indicators, 550,000 high-altituderegulators, and 45,000 Handy Billy firefighting pumps, along with countless outboard motors forthe armed services. In addition, 921 OMC employees joined the service during World War II. Atthe end of the war, the US government awarded Johnson Motors the Minute Man flag and theE Flag with Star for their efforts.
In the years following the war, OMC boasted record sales. In 1946, OMC produced and sold 125,000 motors. By 1947, Gale had outperformed both Evinrude and Johnson in production and sales with almost 100,000 private label motors sold to Montgomery Ward, Goodyear, Gamble-Skogmo, and Esso. Total production in 1947 for OMC was a stunning 262,091 motors. This bested the fourteen other outboard motor manufacturers efforts combined.
The late 1940s and 1950s were considered the age of innovation for the marineindustry. Many of the technologies that we are familiar with today high powered engines,separate fuel tanks, electric starters, and gear shifts were first invented during this time frame.The first product in this modern showcase was the Johnson QD. This 10-hp outboard motorfeatured a 5 gallon remote fuel tank and a gear shift control. In prior models the fuel tank hadbeen part of engine and was capable of holding only 2 to 2 gallons of gasoline. Thisconfiguration was awkward to fill. The new remote fuel tank was attached to the engine with a12 foot flexible hose. The hose, in and of itself, was a remarkable innovation. The connector hadthree holes in it so that it would plug in to three prongs on the motor. The first prong was a guidepin, the second the fuel line, and the third was an air-pressure line. This design remains largelyunchanged even in todays outboard motors. The second unique feature of the QD was its gearshift control which allowed operators to select forward, reverse or neutral. The QD was sosuccessful that it took four years of continual production to meet consumer demand for theproduct.
Growing and Changing
On May 31, 1956, OMC purchased Industrial Engineering Ltd., a Canadian chain sawmanufacturer and further diversified with the formation of the Pioneer Saws Division inWaukegan. Management of the new division decided to focus their development efforts onproducts for the casual weekend user rather than the commercial lumber industry. The newPioneer saw was an immediate success with consumers. A year later, OMC purchased theLincoln, NE based Cushman Motor Works. Cushman was the low-cost leader in landtransportation with their well-known line of gas and electric scooters, golf carts, and industrialthree-wheeled vehicles. OMCs goal in this acquisition was to dominate the market foreconomical transportation on land and water.
By the end of the 1950s, OMC had more than 9,000 employees and 30,000 retail dealersthroughout the world. OMC also had an impressive production and transport system whichincluded 27 million feet of office and factory space, 8 truck tractors, 20 trailers, 2 DC-3 aircrafts,and 2 Twin Beechcraft planes. Based upon sales figures from 1959, OMC was named as the259th largest industrial corporation in the United States.
In 1958, OMC introduced the V-block engine, which was used in the electric-startingJohnson Super Sea Horse V-50. The electric-starting Evinrude Starflite and manual-startingFifty-Four also contained the V-block engine but both models were quickly discontinued lessthan two years later. Thermostats were also introduced in 1958 and placed in both of theEvinrude V-50s, as well as the 35-hp Lark. In 1959, to celebrate their 50th Jubilee Anniversary,Evinrude designed all of its outboard motors with gold accents on the all-fiberglass cowlings.Johnson, in turn, designed a new Sea Horse emblem and placed in on its trademark whitecowling.
Johnson produced its two millionth motor in 1960, the same year that OMC opened a52,000 square foot plant in Bankstown, New South Wales, Australia. Within its first year ofoperation, the new facility produced 14,000 outboard motors. Production continued to increase ata rate of 25% per year for the next five years.
The year 1961 saw the resurrection of the Matched Unit. OMC announced in April 1961 that it planned to produce a line of boats in the following year. The 17-foot day cruisers were designed to be matched with a new stern-drive 80-hp, 4 cylinder inboard-outboard motor. The boats were to be produced by the newly formed Special Products Division (later renamed the OMC Boat Division). When the 17-foot boats hit the market in 1963, consumers were offered three basic configurations an outboard runabout, a deluxe runabout, and an open forward cockpit model. Each model was available with a choice of engines an 88-hp V-4 twocycle, a 110-hp inline four-cycle, or a 150-hp V-6 four-cycle. A year later, Evinrude began to sell 16-ft boats a conventional runabout called the Sweet 16 and an open forward cockpit model called the Sport 16. Boat production continued at OMC until 1970.
Push-button technology was all the rage in the early 1960s. To capitalize on this trend,Evinrude introduced push-button shifting on all of its 1962 models. Johnson featuredElectramatic electromechanical forward to reverse shifting on its 40-hp and 75-hp models andadded a 28-hp compact model to its lineup. Similarly, Evinrude came out with the 28-hpSpeeditwin in 1963. That year, Evinrude sold 87,398 motors, while Johnson sold 88,118. Alsothat year, OMC launched a line of marine accessories, ranging from electric starting kits topropellers. In August 1962, OMC stopped production of private label outboards at their Galefactory so that efforts could be concentrated on producing and distributing a growing line ofaccessories.
Growing and Changing 2
Diversification continued in 1964 with the production of a new line of snowmobiles atOMCs Canadian plant. The Evinrude snowmobile was called the Skeeter. It featured a 14-hp,two-cycle engine, thumb control throttling and disc brakes. The Skeeter sat on a 15-inch widerubber track and could reach speeds up to 30 mph. An identical Johnson unit was called theSkee-Horse.
The 1960s also brought about a number of line changes for Evinrude and Johnson. The28-hp Speeditwin was re-launched as the 33-hp Ski Twin. The Fisherman was boosted from 5 hp to 6-hp and the budget-friendly 5-hp Angler was introduced. Two new 14-foot outboard boatswere added in 1965. However both the Lark 14 and Sport 14 were discontinued a year later.Johnson added a high-thrust V-60 and V-75, along with a 5-hp unit similar to Evinrudes Angler.Record sales were achieved in 1966 when net sales for boats, motors, snowmobiles, lawnmowers, and Cushman vehicles reached $212.4 million.
Sales at OMC werent the only things setting records in the 1960s. World speed recordswere also being set using Evinrude motors. In March 1960, Hu Entrop used the Starflite II topower his 14-foot hydroplane to a record 114.65 mph. In September, Entrop used anotherStarflite II engine to bump the record to 122.97 mph. The introduction of a new 115-hp motor in1967 renewed OMCs interest in factory-sponsored racing. The High-Performance Group wasestablished in 1967 and OMC reentered the racing arena with three boats at the Parker Enduro inParker, AZ. Unfortunately none of OMCs boats even finished the race. Despite their lacklusterstart, the OMC team managed to win 11 out of 16 Outboard Performance Class races that yearand placed first in 1 out of 4 ocean races.
OMC continued to grow throughout the 1970s, adding more factory and warehousespace. The result was newer and better models of all of its products in the marketplace. In 1971,the Starflite 115 was replaced by a high-performance Starflite 125-S and a new Starflite 100 wasintroduced. Similarly, on the Johnson side, the Sea Horse 115 became the Sea Horse 125 V-4and a new Sea Horse 100 was introduced. Snowmobiles began to come with a standard Wide-Trac and were offered with both manual and electric starting.
Moving Into The Future
In 1989, OMC purchased some of the holdings of Murray Industries, Inc., makers ofChris-Craft boats. That same year, OMC sold off Lawn-Boy and Cushman. The sales netted acombined $248 million in cash for OMC. One portion of the money was used for capitalimprovements for its boatbuilding facilities while another portion was invested in building a newSuncruiser aluminum pontoon boat. Despite the large expenditures, OMCs decision to focus onboatbuilding proved to be a good one. OMC was able to pair boats with appropriately poweredoutboards and sales of boat packages doubled within a one year timeframe.
Smaller and quieter V-6s were introduced in 1991 in the form of the Evinrude Spitfireand the Johnson Silver-Star series. These outboards featured a new flushing device that could beused to flush the engine with fresh water while it was running. The Spitfire and Silver-Starmodels also used an infra-red sensor system called Optical Ignition System (OIS 2000). Thissystem automatically advanced the engine timing to eliminate unwanted timing changes. Otheradvancements in 1991 included smaller, more fuel efficient diesel stern drive models. The OMCCobra Diesel was a 970 pound, 3.2 liter, six-cylinder monoblock inline powerhouse thatproduced 205-hp at 4300 rpm.
Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) was introduced on select OMC drive systems in 1993,representing the first time that EFI was available to recreational stern drive customers. With theprevious carbureted systems, boaters had to endure a nine-step starting sequence. With the EFI,boaters had only to turn the key and shift into gear.
By 1993, OMC had more than 20 brands in the marketplace, ranging from canoes tocruisers. Operations were divided into three groups the Fishing Boat Group, the RecreationalBoat Group, and the Aluminum Boat Group. Each group was responsible for all manufacturingand marketing efforts associated with its line of products. The Fishing Boat Group includedStratos, Hydra-Sports, Javelin and Quest by Four Winns. The Recreational Boat Group wascomprised of 80 models under the brand names Chris-Craft, Donzi, Four Winns, Seaswirl andSunbird. The Aluminum Boat Group included Princecraft/Springbok, Suncruiser, Low, SeaNymph, Grumman, and Roughneck. Many of these same brands are still in production today.