Carl Kiekhaefer considered OMC a hated enemy. With a 30-year head start on Mercury, OMC's Johnson and Evinrude had secured the best dealers with exclusive contracts. After the end of World War II, Keikhaefer declared another war - on OMC.
In 1950 Mercury set out to debunk the "OMC myth" that Ole Evinrude had invented the outboard motor. Kiekhaefer tracked down 73-year-old Cameron Waterman, brought him to the New York Boat Show, and with much media fanfare, arranged for him to be honored as the outboard motor's true inventor.
OMC allegedly hit back in the mid-1950s by organizing a smear campaign, coining the slogan, "Mercurys are fast, but won't last." Supposedly, dealers were told to spread stories that Mercurys required special fuel, oil, tools, and highly trained mechanics to stay running. Or that Kiekhaefer was broke or crazy. Or that "Mercurys are built in a barn, if you don't believe it, remove a spark plug and smell it." Everyone had heard the rumors, but no one knew where they came from.
This drove Kiekhaefer up a wall and at annual dealer meetings he'd hang an OMC engine over a bonfire. He would personally light it and then lower the outboard into the roaring flames, exhorting his troops as the "enemy's" motor was reduced to a glob of molten aluminum. Maybe he was crazy after all.
What color was the first Mercury?
Who built the first stock boat specifically designed for outboards?
Penn Yan, in 1928.
What year did Sears first offer a mail-order outboard?
The Motorgo first appeared in 1913.
Who owned the nascar team that won 80 percent of the stock car events it entered in 1956?
Carl Kiekhaefer, owner of Mercury, raced Chrysler 300s and dominated the circuits.
Who first offered shifting gears?
Johnson and Scott-Atwater, in 1949.
Which company built the first four-cylinder outboard motor?
Elto, in 1928.
Name the manufacturer that built Lawn-Boy lawn mowers.
Evinrude in 1932, and it remained part of OMC until 1989.
Who built the first production V-4 outboard motor?
Evinrude, in 1958.
In the Eyes of the Beholder
1954 Mercury Mark 50E
The first modern-looking outboard. It had a green top and bottom sec<>tions separated by polished wraparound shrouds. It was offered for only one year but introduced a style and attitude that would become a Mercury trademark, and make Mercury an icon for years to come.
...and the Beasts
Thor (1935-1938) Designed as low-cost motors, various Thor models featured a gear housing and crankcase made of roughly pressed steel. It had exposed bolts and rivets and rusted when near water.
Ensign (1933) On the market for only one year, the Ensign had an exposed powerhead that looked like a Volkswagen Bug's. It was big, exceedingly ugly, and did not sell.
Waterman (1908-1909) Give Waterman its due for launching an industry, but its early motors were not much to look at, with a fuel cylinder mounted on the wooden tiller and exposed gears in the lower unit.
1930 Caille Model 15
Maybe the best-looking outboard ever. A bright red fuel tank gave it the "Red Head" nickname, but the graceful fins cast into its aluminum exhaust manifolds were equally eye-catching.
Bad ideas in outboard motors
(1918-1922) Tried to capitalize on aircraft design by using unguarded air props, which made them extremely dangerous. While the above-water prop reduced draft, the boat still required a deep rudder for steering.
(1917-1918) Ole Evinrude had sold the company before this 95-pound, 4-hp, four-stroke horror show was introduced. It was incredibly complex, hard to start, and required lubricating oil to be mixed with the gas.
Ro-Peller (1931) A hand-cranked outboard. Gearing amplified the effort of the cranker. It was quiet and lightweight, but not much of an advantage over oars.
Yuba Steam Outboard (1954) A 90-pound gasoline-fired boiler was mounted in the boat with a 75-pound three-cylinder outboard on the stern. At 1,000 degrees and 1,500 psi pressure, it terrified everyone who came near it.
Mercury's Direct Reverse (1957) Carl Kiekhaefer didn't believe shifting gears could be built for big motors, so Mercury's six-cylinder models shut down and then restarted (if you were lucky) in reverse.