Mercury Outboard Ad April 1954 issue of Field & Stream.

On a weekly basis we scan through reems of old magazines, catalogs, and books looking for interesting topics to discuss on the Bass Fishing Archives.  Something we hope will strike a chord with you all. Today in Outboard Motors 1954 we hope you like this look at the state of the art in outboard motors from the 1950s.

Outboard motors and bass fishing have had a longstanding relationship that goes back to at least the 1940s.  In the 1950s, after World War II, more and more anglers were able to afford the luxury and the outboard replaced the paddle and oars of earlier years.

Speed was never an issue in the 1950s when I came to bass fishing.  For one, there weren’t as many anglers on the water and two, there was no reason to go fast.  Fast was for the pleasure boaters who ran outboards off the big boats where bass anglers use small wood boats and much later in the decade, aluminum boats.  This means 3- to 9-horse motors were the norm in the day, pushing 12- to 15-foot boats at the max.

It was a much simpler time, a time when a depthfinder was a plumb bob and marked string, and a trolling motor was a sculling paddle.  This was the cornerstone of the sport we love today.

Let’s get back to the ads.

The lead-in ad is what initially got my attention and was in the April 1954 issue of Field & Stream magazine.  It was a two-page color spread by Mercury touting their 5-horsepower Mark 5 motor.  What I love about this ad is it notes that the company is not Mercury but Keikhafer Corporation, Fond Du Lac, WI.  Mercury was the name of the product, not the company.

This 5-horse motor weighed only 40 pounds, had a push-button clutch, and other features.  But although the text of the ad was superbly written and well worth the time to read, it was the artwork that grabbed my attention.

The image looks to be a watercolor of two anglers fishing in a wooden boat, Hip-roof tackle box between them on a lily pad and reed filled lake.  The water is like a mirror, a big deadfall in the foreground, and the angler in the stern hooked up on his spinning gear with no doubt is a big bass. It’s just an awesome image, one I’d have paid for just to hang on the wall.

This was an expensive ad covering two pages of one of the biggest outdoor magazines of the day.  Keikhafer and the marketing gurus at the plant must have thought it worthy to spend that kind of money to sell the engine, which went for $197.50 at the time.  I tell you, if I were around then and had the funds, this ad alone would have sold me on the motor.

Mercury Outboard Ad June 1954 issue of Field & Stream

But as you might expect, Keikafer wasn’t just selling small motors to the small-boat crowd.  They were also selling motors from 7- to 40-horsepower for those who wanted a little more push.  This next ad came from the June 1954 issue of Field & Stream and features three more of their motors the mark 7, Mark 20, and Mark 50.  Front and center is what appears to be a 15-foot wooden boat with four people in it.  It’s not a fishing boat per-se, but they’re touting their bigger motors.

The next four ads feature two companies that started individually but merged in 1936 when Johnson was purchased by Evinrude.  By 1954, both companies were under the Outboard Motor Company umbrella.

Each of the Johnson and Evinrude ads were impeccably done in the style of the day.  Bright colors, flashy fonts, and good descriptions of the motors themselves.

Johnson Outboard Ad April 1954 issue of Field & Stream
Johnson Outboard Ad June 1954 issue of Field & Stream
Evinrude Outboard Ad April 1954 issue of Field & Stream
Evinrude Outboard Ad June 1954 issue of Field & Stream

The interesting thing about Johnson and Evinrude at this time is the employees knew both companies were held by OMC.  What they didn’t know was the parts made for each of the respective motors were interchangeable and only the exterior design of the motor differed from company to company.  The owners even held contests between the two companies for sales, providing bonuses to the company that sold more motors each year.

Looking at these fours ads, which again were in the April and June issues of Field & Stream, you’ll see that Johnson sold 3-, 5 1/2-, 10-, and 25-horsepower motors.  Evinrude, on the other hand sold 3-, 7 1/2-, 15-, and 25-horsepower motors.  The 3- and 25-horsepower motors were exactly the same internally, whereas the difference between the other four was only in the carburetion, giving more horsepower to the Evinrude motors than the Johnsons.

You all notice that the pricing for all the motors follows the same price schedule.  OMC was smart in doing this as they covered the entire market.

Scott-Atwater Outboard Ad April 1954 issue of Field & Stream

Next on the list of motors is the Scott-Atwater Bail-O-Matic series of outboards as seen in the April 1954 issue of Field & Stream.  This motor was unique in that it could bail your boat through an integral pump, separate from the cooling system.  Scott-Atwater Bail-O-Matic motors came in five sizes, 3.6-, 5-, 7 1/2-, 10-, and 16-horsepower.  I’m sure there were other models they sold, they just weren’t in this ad.

Wizard Outboard Ad April 1954 issue of Field & Stream

Also in the April 1954 issue of Field & Stream was Western Auto’s line of Wizard outboards.  These motors came in 6-, 10-, and 12-horsepower configurations.  Although the ad was touting the whole Wizard line of motors, Western Auto was mostly pumping their new Powermatic 12 motor.  The Powermatic 12 was supposed to be faster than the competitors’ 15- and 16-horse motors through better carburetors, better valves, bearings, gears and propeller.

Western Auto claimed speeds of up to 30 miles-per-hour for hours without refueling their 6-gallon “long-range” fuel tank.

The final two ads differ from the first eight in that they were 1/3-page full-length ads placed by smaller motor companies.  The first of these ads is from Gale Products featuring their Buccaneer series outboards.  These motors came in 3-, 5-, and 12-horsepower.  The 12-horse model is described as having optional remote controls, which I’m not sure if that means steering, electric start, or maybe both.  There’s not much to the ad so there isn’t much more to say than that.

The final ad is from Muncie Gear Works out of Muncie, Indiana.  Their motors were known as Neptune and in this ad, they were pumping the “Mighty Mite,” a 17-pound outboard.  Billed as light enough for a woman or a child to carry, there is no talk on how many horsepower the motor produced.

What caught my eye was the image of the woman dressed in a black evening dress hoisting the motor with one hand.  The caption stated, “so Light… so Handy, Take it anywhere!”  Due to the year, I’m surprised they didn’t add in there, “Even to the Grocery Store,” or “Even While Vacuuming!”

The motor no doubt got its light weight from being air-cooled.  There wasn’t much to this motor, but it was designed for small boats and canoes.  And for $79.50, the price was right.

Buccaneer Outboard Ad June 1954 issue of Field & Stream
Neptune Outboard Ad April 1954 issue of Field & Stream

It’s hard to imagine bass fishing today without at least a 200-horsepower motor attached to a 20-foot boat, rigged with five or more batteries, enough electronics to outfit an emergency operations center, and more than 50 gallons of fuel.  That’s the bare minimum a lot of people say.

But back in the 1949s through the 1960s, serious bass anglers used wooden boats with small tiller-steer motors.  And most didn’t even have an electric motor.  Still, they caught fish, and lots of them.  In fact, how many bass have you caught going 80 mph down the lake or river?

I hope you enjoyed this look back into the bass motors of the 1950s.  Let us know in the comments if you enjoyed it and we’ll continue to post pieces like this.