Outboard Motors & Boats

A lot of changes have taken place in the outboard motor and boat market over the past 75 years. Ole Evinrude started it all in 1909 when he began producing a motorized contraption to power a rowboat. While Evinrude was growing, the innovative Johnson brothers were busy building motor bikes, the first aircraft, and then, in December 1921, their first production Johnson Sea Horse outboard.
In 1936, Evinrude and Johnson were merged into one corporation that later became known as Outboard Marine Corp. Then in 1939, another legend in the industry, Carl Kiekhaefer, founded Mercury Marine, and the race was on.
In the 30s and early 40s, the days of the rudimentary knuckle buster outboards, boats were made of wood. Prior to World War II, you had to be a dedicated enthusiast with some degree of strength to go boating. Boaters had to hang over the back of a boat with a can of gas and try to pour it into the little hole in the outboard tank while the boat was rocking. It also took some strength just to start one of the early outboards with a rope wrapped around the exposed flywheel.
The 1950s was the decade of the greatest changes in outboard boating. Product development took the operator out of the back of the boat and put him up front in a comfortable seat with a steering wheel, electric starter, generator and remote controls with forward, neutral and reverse. More women were interested in boating, and it became a family recreation. Sales exploded.
With whole families boating, there was a demand for bigger boats, that, in turn, created a demand for larger horsepower outboards. In the early 50s, a 25-hp engine was considered big. By 1959, 75-hp outboards were common, and the horsepower race took off.
There were also big changes in boats. In the early 50s, wooden boats were about all that was available. There were the popular lapstrake boats and also boats made with compressed seam planking, which let water leak in. Then came plywood, which provided non-leaking boats and less maintenance. During the same period, a vast, unused aluminum manufacturing capacity was developed, which resulted in mass-produced aluminum boats.
Then came fiberglass, which gradually replaced molded plywood. By the mid-60s wooden boats had pretty much disappeared. Fiberglass allowed much more freedom in designing the shapes of boats. The gull wing was introduced in the 60s followed by the deep-V hull, designed by a naval architect.
The 60s and 70s were the years of bigger engines and bigger boats. On March 29, 1960, an Evinrude-powered boat finally broke the big 100-mph speed barrier. Business was booming for outboards. In 1961, there were 46,500 outboards sold in New York alone, 41,000 in California. And in October 1960, the Marine Trades Exhibit and Conference was started at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago. It was the major national event in the industry for years, until boat builder summer dealer meetings reduced attendance and it was discontinued.
Outboard innovations in the 60s and 70s included moving from cross scavenging to loop scavenging, which eliminated a lot of pre-ignition and piston damage, reduced fuel consumption and provided higher durability. Stainless-steel props, tuned exhaust, trim and tilt, and V-6 outboards came about primarily because of racing.
The 80s brought us larger horsepower engines. However, the big change was the advent of packages, including boat, motor, trailer, controls and instruments. They now account for 80 percent of outboard boat and motor sales.
In the 1990s, the major focus in outboard product development switched to lowering emissions to meet the CARB 3-Star requirements. These emission levels were successfully met with several innovations, including direct fuel injection and four-stroke engines.
With the rapid technological advancements already acheived in the 21st Century, there will undoubtedly be more product innovations to come.

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