Ole Evinrude

Ole Evinrude
Ole Evinrude
Oslo, Norway
Death date
Associated organizations
Johnson Motor Company
Fields of study
Mechanical Engineering


Ole Evinrude was an Norwegian immigrant, engineer, and inventor who created the first commercially successful outboard motor. Fabricated with the desire to give a means of easy maneuverability on a lake, the outboard motor had sold 9,142 units within the first year of release [1]. Today, the Evinrude Outdoor Motors company still produces and sells outdoor motors for recreational usage. Historically, Evinrude is noted for his contribution to society where he successfully created a complex and affordable modern technology for American families, while additionally improving the prominence and popularity of recreational boating and engineering.

Born on a small farm six miles away from Oslo, Norway on April 19th 1887, Ole and his mother, father, and eight siblings immigrated to Cambridge, Wisconsin in 1892 following Ole's fifth birthday. Living on Lake Ripley, he spent his youth as an assistant to his father on a farm, and eventually found employment as a sorter in a near-by tobacco warehouse. It was during these years that Evinrude had interacted significantly with his uncle who was a sailor; It was from him that he learned a great deal about naval knowledge and became intrigued in ships. Additionally, it was observed that when he traveled via ship that Evinrude would be frequently rescued from the ship's engine rooms due to his tinkering via the engines [2].

At the age of 15, after learning from his uncle much about general naval knowledge and having a genuine interest in ships, Evinrude had built a sailboat out of leftover wood in his father's woodshed. But due to the hard life of living on the farm and the need to make income, his father had become disgruntled that his son was tinkering on personal projects and not assisting with farm work. He destroyed the sailboat made by Evinrude in hopes that his son would lose his interest in boats and instead take a stronger interest in agriculture [3]. However, Evinrude was not discouraged, and went on to build another sailboat at the age of 16. This time his father was more lenient and Evinrude was allowed to bring the boat to the lake. Curious onlookers observed him bringing the boat out for a test run, where eventually Evinrude decided to capitalize by charging a quarter for each onlooker to take a ride. This not only resulted in Evinrude earning a substantial amount of money, but also led to him developing a capitalistic mindset [4].

Due to the financial success of the the sailboat rides that Evinrude was distributing, his father had accepted that his son would not pursue farmwork. As a result, Evinrude went to Madison in the fall of the same year he built the sailboat; he obtained a job as an apprentice machinist in the farm-machinery shop of Fuller and Johnson and received a salary of fifty cents a day. Developing his trade skills at a rapid rate he eventually found work in other shops in Pittsburgh and Chicago, and for five years had hopped from job to job learning about steel rolling mills, steel manufacturing and trade, mechanical tool working, and motors. During this time frame he self taught himself mechanical engineering fundamentals during his off hours, till eventually due to experience and education he became a first-rate machinist and a self-taught mechanical engineer [5].

In 1900, at the age of 23 Evinrude had traveled back to Wisconsin to open up a pattern shop, where at the time he was considered a master pattern maker and a consulting engineer for the E. P. Allis Company in Milwaukee. Taking a strong interest in combustible engines, he worked for several of the early motor companies in the area where he designed and improved engines. As a result of his extensive work, he looked to marketing his accomplishments; however, after entering this route he had soon began to encounter financial issues. Seeking to obtain money, he founded the partnership of Clemiek and Evinrude, a firm dedicated to producing combustion engines to order, while also producing spare parts and castings. The business was a success and expanded into over half a dozen shops within the process of only a few months [6] .

Working at the firm, it was there he met his soon to be wife and inspiration for the outboard motor. Bess Carry, who was a clerk for Evinrude in the Clemiek and Evinrude mechanical engineering clinic, had entered a relationship with Evinrude while he was tinkering with combustible engines. Carry, who had a business background from studying at a local college, would later serve as the inspiration for the outboard motor and significantly assist Evinrude in his business actions [7].

Continuing in their relationship, the story goes that on a faithful summer day both Evinrude and Carry were having a romantic picnic together on an island in the middle of Wisconsin Lake. It was a hot summer day, and Carry had asked Evinrude if he could get her some ice cream to cool off. It was the middle of August in the year 1906, and the temperature outside was a blazing 90 degrees Fahrenheit; Evinrude not wanting to disappoint his girlfriend had reluctantly accepted the chore of paddling back to the mainland to get ice cream. A five mile stretch of water, Evinrude sweated as he paddled his rowboat back to shore, and as he did so began to think to himself ways to make his labor easier. After pondering, he realized that the trip would be significantly more efficient if he had a motor of some sort to propel his craft thru the summer heat [8].

After he married Carry, had his first son, and finished working on some engine projects, Evinrude had left the Evinrude and Clemiek to begin his work on what would later be called the outboard motor. Working day and night, he became addicted; due to overworking his health was ruined and he began to suffer from rheumatism, till eventually he was physically incapable of standing on his feet. Despite this, a drawing board was brought to his bed where he continued sketch blueprints. In 1907 he finally had finished the first design for his motor [9]. His wife, first frustrated that he had spent the last few years sketching something that she defined as a "coffee cutter", she eventually realized the potential of the product and assumed full responsibilities for the business activities attended the the invention.

In 1909 he eventually obtained the necessary parts to develop a prototype. However, despite building the invention, he had to compete with another motorboat company; named the Waterman Porto Motor, the motor they produced was mostly identical in design, the only difference being that in Evinrude's engine a single cylinder was added. But due to the Porto Motor's poor marketing, the Porto Motor's advertising ended in disaster, with slogans such as "Don't be afraid of it!" that scared away customers [10] However, the ingenious business skills Mrs. Evinrude had created opposite results for the Evinrude outboard motor: she had developed the slogan "throw away the oars- buy an Evinrude detachable motor." The slogan was a complete success that not only attracted customers, but also put Evinrude above Porto Motor within the market. Additionally, in order to ward off low sales during the winter, Mrs. Evinrude had devised an international business plan. Meeting with various large firms, her and her husband had received over 1,000 offers for motors across the globe.

The Evinrude Motors company, now international, expanded tremendously within the following years. However, bad luck had sprung its trap, and Mrs. Evinrude eventually fell fatally ill. Due to her poor health, Evinrude had to sell the company in 1913, where he agreed to not enter the motorboat industry for another five years. But during his retirement, he developed an improved two cylinder engine that was superior to the single cylinder engine he originally created. Eventually after his wife had recovered, they both formed another company named ELTO (Evinrude's Light Twin Outboard). The engine again proved to be a success, and as a result allowed for the ELTO to merge with Outboard Motor Corporation (the Evinrude Motors Company renamed), forming the Lockwood Motor Company with Evinrude [11].

Working within the company, Mrs. Evinrude retired in 1928 from considerable health issues, till in 1933 she passed away. Evinrude followed, passing away the next year on July 12th in Milwaukee. Their son took over the Lockwood Motor Company following their deaths, where again in 1936 merged the company into the Johnson Motor Company to form the Outboard Marine Corporation [12].