Mr Evinrude and the first outboard engine, born because of an ice cream


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The year was 1935 when Ole Evinrude and the two Johnson brothers, both considered the major outboard engine manufacturers of the time, joined forces to found the WTO (Outboard Marine Corporation).


Since then until today, the WTO has given a considerable boost and contribution to the development of the outboard engine industry, so much so that it has become the largest outboard engine manufacturer in the world. However, in order to understand the evolution of the WTO, it is necessary to take a step back to 1909, when Ole Evinrude’s extraordinary pioneering personality tried his hand at building the first outboard engine in the small Milwaukee factory.

Evinrude outboard history

The history of the Evinrude family is very interesting and particular. Ole’s parents predicted a great future for their son as a “farmer”, i.e. owner and manager of a farm. But Ole, contrary to his father’s expectations, felt attracted by the stories of his uncle, a sailor who had sailed all over the world. Playing a key role in Ole’s decision to go boating was Lake Ripley, located opposite his estate in Cambridge, Wisconsin. In fact, spending the summer ferrying people in rowing boats from one side of the lake to the other, he “turned on the light bulb” and began to think about how he could speed up the transfer of the boats.



It was precisely on this idea of no longer using oars that his first poster advertising campaign was launched, whose slogan sounded like this: “Don’t row, throw away your old oars, use the Evinrude engine”.

Meanwhile, Ole had made his bones in the Pittsburg steelworks, first in his spare time and then at full speed, making it his main occupation, devoting himself to the study of combustion in engines. Thanks to the tireless work of his wife Bess, married in 1906, and the continuous experiments, success was not long in coming. In the space of two years production almost doubled, so much so that he had to abandon the now small shed and start moving to the former soap factory on Reed Street.

Mr Evinrude and the outboard engine

Fortune seems to kiss Ole Evinrude who, in 1920, founded ELTO (Evinrude Light Twin Outboard) and introduced the use of aluminium in engine construction. This greatly reduced the weight, allowing women to use the outboard, who previously could not even lift it.

When, in 1926, Evinrude presented three engines that were considered revolutionary because of their higher installed power compared to previous models, the Johnson brothers came into play and, in the same year, launched the Big Twin, a model that competed with the Evinrude Super.

The volcanic Johnson brothers, known for having designed the first monoplane (whose model will be kept in mind by the Wright brothers for the construction of their airplane), represent Evinrude’s main opponents until the two of them decide to join forces under the WTO brand.


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