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A craving for ice cream led to the invention of the outboard motor

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By Paul Niemann

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[JULY 8, 2004]  A couple of summers ago, I received a phone call from the marina where I had docked my boat in storage just three days earlier. The boat was nothing fancy -- just a little 16-foot boat that I used for skiing -- but it had a huge 115-horsepower motor that looked totally out of place on such a small boat.

That motor doubled the weight of the boat. OK, I'm exaggerating. It tripled the weight.

I referred to the motor as a Binford 6000. Binford was the fictional sponsor on the TV show "Home Improvement," and anything that has more power than normal is often referred to as a "Binford."

The call from the marina that fateful night went something like this:

Marina person: "Mr. Niemann, your boat sunk."

Me: (in a state of shock) "WHAT?!?"

Marina person: (louder) "Mr. Niemann, your boat sunk."

Me: "I heard you the first time." (After calming down a little) "Well, that's not so bad. How's the Binford 6000?"

Marina person: "Bad news, sir. I'm afraid the motor went down with the ship."

Me: (in another state of shock) "WHAT?!?"

Marina person: (louder) "Bad news, sir. I'm afraid the motor went down with the ship."

The next day I called my brother to help me pull it out, telling him to bring ropes, a pulley, a winch, whatever he could find.

So he brings a camera.

"Hey, this is a Kodak moment and I want to get this on film," he says. I think he wanted evidence in case I ever denied that my boat sunk.

After he took several pictures of me standing next to my little Titanic, we pulled it out of the water and towed it over to shore. After draining all the water out and towing it home, I looked for the cause of the leak. The caulking around the back side of the boat had worn off, and while it didn't cause any problems when I took it out on the Mississippi River for a couple hours at a time, it couldn't handle three days of constantly being in the water at the marina.

Not willing to spend the money that it would take to get it fixed, I was fortunate to find a mechanic who wanted to buy it despite the fact that it didn't run anymore. Actually, I think he just wanted the Binford 6000 motor and not the rest of that old boat.


[to top of second column in this article]

The whole incident, which I've been unable to forget even though it didn't leave any psychological scars, made me think about how the Binford motor -- uh, make that the outboard motor -- was invented. It turns out that the Girlfriend (rather than the Mother) of Necessity was the inspiration behind this invention.

"Don't row! Throw the oars away…"

-- the inventor's ad writer, Bess, promoting
his new invention: the outboard motor

In 1906, a 29-year-old immigrant from Norway named Ole took his girlfriend for a picnic near a Wisconsin lake. She hinted that she wanted some ice cream, so Ole rowed his boat across the river to find her some ice cream. When the ice cream began to melt by the time he returned, he figured there must be a quicker way to power his boat. In fact, it was during this trip that he figured out that a boat might be able to use a gas engine.

Ole came to America with his family when he was just 5. At age 10 he quit school to work on the family farm. He had read about the internal combustion engine and was no doubt inspired by its potential and its applications.

When Ole was 15, he built two boats. Why two boats? Because his father, who had lost three uncles at sea, chopped the first boat to bits. Ole had never sailed before, but his boat worked just fine. He was as well-qualified to design the outboard motor as anyone.

What was his last name?

You guessed it: Evinrude. Like many other inventors whose products created an entirely new industry, Ole Evinrude created a whole new industry with his invention. And the person who inspired him to invent it, his girlfriend Bess, soon became his wife. His company later merged into the Outboard Marine Corporation.

I'm guessing that Ole probably checked his boat's caulking before he stored it in the marina.

[Paul Niemann]

Invention Mysteries is written each week by Paul Niemann. He can be reached at niemann7@inventionmysteries.com.

© Copyright Paul Niemann 2004

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