Outboard motor historian Larry Stevenson will be featured every Tuesday evening in August from 7-8:30 p.m. as he presents highlights and history from the Stevenson Outboard Collection at Boothbay Railway Village. These multimedia presentations explore some of the most popular and influential manufacturers of early- to mid-century outboard motors. Afterwards, Stevenson will guide visitors through the Stevenson Outboard Collection for a chance to view the outboard motors discussed in each presentation.
“Evinrude 1908-1934: The Ole and Bess Years” tells the romantic story of Ole and Bess Evinrude. One hot day in the early 1900s, Ole was picnicking on an island with his girlfriend, Bess. Bess wanted ice cream and Ole rowed back to shore for it, but the sweet treat was melted by the time he returned. Inspired by his difficulty, Ole designed an engine to replace the oar as a means of boat propulsion, which would become the first commercially successful outboard motor. He and Bess married and in 1909 and they founded Evinrude Outboard Motors.
“Evinrude 1935-1965: The Ralph Years” explores the second generation of the Evinrude family’s contributions to outboard motors. In 1929, Ole Evinrude and Stephen Briggs formed the Outboard Marine Corp. by merging Ole and Bess’ second company, Elto, with several others. In 1934, after Ole’s death, Ralph Evinrude took over direction of the Outboard Marine Corp. and continued his father’s legacy. Under Ralph’s leadership, the Outboard Marine Corp. developed the first outboard gearshifts, electric starters, and remote controls.
“Johnson 1922-1965: Amazing Innovation” examines the four Johnson brothers, whose genius and partnership epitomize American mechanical innovation in the first half of the 20th century. The brothers’ career began in their Indiana barn, where they built inboard marine and aviation engines. In 1912, a tornado severely damaged their factory, but by 1918 they had rebuilt their brand as Johnson Brothers Engineering. In 1922, they designed and built a radical new lightweight outboard made largely of aluminum. By the mid-1920s, they surpassed Evinrude in sales, dominating the outboard racing scene.
“Kiekhaefer Mercury 1936-1965: Tenacity and Brilliance” recounts the intriguing story of Elmer Carl Kiekhaefer. Kiekhaefer left his rural Wisconsin home to study electrical engineering. With the support of local investors, he bought a bankrupt factory that made Thor outboards for Montgomery Ward. Unbeknownst to Kiekhaefer, the factory had failed because its motors were faulty. With no money to pay the debt from the unsaleable motors, he worked tirelessly to repair them. Montgomery Ward agreed to take back the repaired stock if he would also build them a more reliable model. Kiekhaefer, whose only experience producing outboards was a brief stint as a draftsman for Evinrude, said yes and Kiekhaefer Mercury Outboard Motor Co. was born.
Admission to the talks is free; a suggested donation of $5 is appreciated. Boothbay Railway Village is located at 586 Wiscasset Road, Boothbay. For more information, go to railwayvillage.org/events or call 633-4727.