Ole Andreasson Aaslundeie Vardal was born April 19, 1877 in Vardal (Gjøvik), Oppland, Norway to Andreas "Andrew" Olsen Evinrude (1843-1919) and Beatha "Beate" Olsdottir Dohl. He was christened 10 June 1877. The Evinrude name (spelled several ways) came from Beate's family's farm in Norway, Evenrud, and was adopted after the family emigrated. The Evinrudes came to America from Norway in 1882, later settling on a farm at Ripley Lake, near Cambridge, Wisconsin in 1887.
Ole was living on his own in 1900 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The Ole and Bessie Evinrude raised their son in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1910, Ole was listed as working as a pattern maker, having developed skills working for EP Allis, while also working on his outboard designs. Ole and Bessie were working together for their company in 1920, Ole as the primary owner and manufacturer and Bessie as an office manager. In 1930, he is listed as the president of his motor manufacturing business.
From a young age, Ole enjoyed working with all things mechanical. He apprenticed in various cities and became a master pattern maker, as well as creating his own "horseless carriages" with the then new internal combustion engine.
On August 14, 1906, a group of young people, including Ole and his future wife, Bess, went on a picnic on Okauchee Lake in Wisconsin. Bess decided she wanted ice cream, and Ole took the task to heart. While rowing a small boat a couple miles away to Schatz's Ice Cream and back again, totaling ninety minutes in the summer heat in Wisconsin, Ole realized the combustion engine might also be used for boats, not just carriages. Bess got to drink her ice cream by the time he got back to her. The next year he built a prototype motor, the "coffee grinder" as Bess dubbed it. Two years later he had a 1 ½ horsepower, 62 pound engine. with a vertical crankshaft, horizontal flywheels, and set of bevel gears.
By August 22, 1911, Ole had a patent for the "Detachable Row Boat Motor."
It took a couple years and a lot of advertising but his outboard motors for boats started to become popular, selling for $62.00 each.There were others experimenting with the idea of an outboard motor but Evinrude's was the first to be practical enough to be commercially successful, selling 10,000 by 1913. That design remains an industry standard. Bess would help push him to make a business of the idea. It was she who thought up one of their advertising slogans, "Don't Row, Throw Your Oars Away and Use An Evinrude Motor."
Ole worked hard at producing the motors but that coupled with caring for Bess, who was chronically ill, led him to decide to sell Evinrude Outboard Motors for $140,000 to a partner, Chris Meyer, in 1914. Ole agreed to not re-enter the boat motor business for five years, but he kept developing new products on his own.
By 1921, he had developed a twin-cylinder, 3-horsepower, 48-pound, aluminum outboard motor. He offered the new item to Chris Meyer, but Meyer turned down the product. Evinrude then formed a new business: the ELTO Company (the name stood for 'Evinrude light twin outboard') which now created new competition with the first company he had founded, still owned by Meyer. Meyer sold the company to Stephen F. Briggs of Briggs & Stratton.
Between 1919 and 1929, ELTO and Evinrude went back and forth as leaders in this new industry. Johnson Motors, which started in 1922, a specialist of inboard motors and speedboats, then took the lead in the industry. Ole's son, Ralph S. Evinrude joined the family business in 1927 and worked on development of a new four-cylinder motor, the "Elto Quad".
In 1929, Stephen Briggs approached Ole about combining ELTO, Evinrude, and Lockwood-Ash Motor into one company-OMC (Outboard Marine & Manufacturing Corp.). Ole was made president, and Briggs became chairman of board. Johnson Outboard was added to the company in 1936. Ralph Evinrude, who took over the business when he father passed away, continued to run the corporation and added many new products under the LawnBoy name (chainsaws, lawn mowers, etc).
Ole's wife, Bess, died in 1933. That loss was too much for Ole, and he died only a year later, July 12, 1934 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He and Bess are buried in Pinelawn Memorial Park, Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Ole's original outboard motor earned the distinction of National Historical Engineering Landmark from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for creations that contributed significantly to the development of civilization. It was the first consumer product to earn the distinction of the landmark award. OMC continued creating replicas of the original Evinrude outboard motor, some of which are housed in museums across the United States. He is also remembered for his kindness, and was compared a sort of Jimmy Stewart, quietly helping those around them when they needed it, an especially relevant trait in his final years during the Great Depression.
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