The Evinrude outboard motor, designed and built by Ole Evinrude, has been honored as a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Evinrude designed his first internal combustion engine for powering boats in 1907. He and his wife, Bess, formed the Evinrude Motor Co. in 1909 and began manufacturing what became the world's first truly successful outboard motor.
His first engine was two-cycle, developed 1 HP at 1,000 rpm, weighed 62 pounds, and used 'an engineering design that has remained standard for outboard motors ever since,' the ASME said.
When Evinrude began, other outboard 'motors' had not proved practical. In the 40 years preceding his breakthrough, methods devised to power the boats had included something a little more than a paddlewheel operated by foot, or use of steam, or storage batteries.
Evinrude, born in 1877, apprenticed in a farm machinery shop in Madison, Wis., worked in Pittsburgh and Chicago, then opened his own pattern shop in Milwaukee.
The internal combustion engine was just beginning to make headway. Ole and a partner formed the Motor Car Power Equipment Co., to build a standardized motor that could be installed in any 'horseless carriage'.
Then he designed his prototype of the outboard motor which Bess called a 'coffee grinder'. At her urging he built the 'coffee grinder' in quantity.
The company grew, but when Bess became ill, Ole sold the firm in 1914 and they retired. He agreed to stay out of the outboard business for five years, but as Ole and Bess traveled and she regained her health, he was envisioning a new outboard, to use two cylinders instead of one, weigh 50 percent less, yet develop 50 percent more power.
Ole and Bess were back in business in 1921 as the Elto Outboard Motor Co. (Evinrude Light Twin Outboard). The first Elto motor utilized aluminum. It developed three HP instead of 1, and weighed 47 pounds.
Many innovations followed. In 1928, the two-cylinder 'barrier' was broken when Elto introduced the four-cylinder to meet the growing demand from boaters for speed.
Corporate changes took place. The original Evinrude Company, which had been through several hands, was bought by Briggs & Stratton Corp. in 1928. In 1914, Evinrude merged with Elto and Lockwood-Ash to form the Outboard Motors Corp.
Bess died in Milwaukee in 1933; Ole died a year later, at age 57. Their only son, Ralph, carried on the business.
Outboard Motors Corp. acquired the other major outboard company in the U.S., Johnson Motors of Waukeegan, Ill, in 1935. Ralph headed the new firm, Outboard Marine and Manufacturing Co.
The company is known today as Outboard Marine Corp., with Ralph Evinrude as board chairman. Its sales are over $700 million a year; it is international in scope, and employs more than 10,000 persons.
An impressive list of Evinrude 'firsts' has been compiled for the ASME. If you want a copy of a brochure telling about the award and company accomplishments, ask for 'A National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark', and send the request to American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 345 E. 47th St., New York, NY 10017.