A week ago we posted a piece about the start of Mercury Motors in the early 40s with an ad from 1946. Today, with Johnson Evinrude – 1946, we’ll look at Mercury’s two main competitors not only for the ‘40s but well through the turn of the century.
For those of you who remember the Outboard Marine Corporation, or more commonly referred to as OMC, you remember that Johnson and Evinrude were both part of that conglomeration. But that wasn’t the case prior to 1936. In fact, both companies were competitors up until that time.
Ole Evinrude is credited by some to be the inventor of the outboard motor industry. In 1882, when he was five years old, his family emigrated from Norway to the U.S. and landed in Milwaukee, WI. By the time he was 25, he’d developed his first outboard motor – a 1.5 horsepower model that was introduced publicly in 1909.
In the meantime, three brothers in Indiana, Lou, Harry and Clarence Johnson had been tinkering in their own garage and in 1905 built their first successful outboard motor. But the Johnson brothers were soon bit by the flying bug and moved their concentration from developing outboard motors to airplane motors – although they continued to build some outboards.
By the start of the 1920s Evinrude was the big outboard manufacturer in the U.S. And, if not for a tornado, and a failed attempt at a motorcycle company by the Johnson’s, may have continued on as the leader.
In 1921 the Johnson brothers decided to give the marine industry another try and developed their first motor that would garner the Johnson name. It was a 2-horsepower, 2-cylider motor made of aluminum and only weighed 35 pounds. In 1922 they developed two more motors, the Light Twin and Waterbug, and received acclaim at the National Motor Boat Show that same year.
By the early ‘30s Johnson had surpassed Evinrude in sales and was putting a hurt on Evinrude’s business. Not only that, in 1934 Evinrude lost its leader, Ole at the age of 57. Ole’s son Ralph Evinrude took over the helm and within a year teamed up with Steven Briggs, of Briggs and Stratton fame, bought Johnson Motors and folded the company into the Outboard Motor Company (yes, that was the first name of OMC).
Although the companies were under the same umbrella, they operated as separate business units and competed against each other. Johnson continued to out-sell Evinrude.
This brings me to the two ads posted with this piece. As you can see each ad is from 1946 – in fact, the same magazine. Each company is touting why its motor is the best and if one were to look closely, each company is hailing from a different state. No mention is made of OMC or the fact the companies are sister companies. It’s as if they we’re completely separate entities. The motors looked different, ran different and were made in different states.
Competition between the companies continued until 2007 when Bombardier discontinued production of the Johnson line. Then, as you all well know, Bombardier abruptly stopped making outboard motors in 2020.
As for the competition, Mercury still has it but it’s in the form of Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki.